Concerns grow after 'very worrying' rise in the number of rough sleepers in South Tyneside
This included figures on people presenting as homeless to the local authority as well as work to prevent homelessness, relief efforts and advice and guidance.
In the first five months of 2023/24, the council saw 1,284 people come forward as homeless – or at risk of homelessness. It also prevented 117 cases of homelessness and provided relief in 185 cases.
Nearly 800 cases also saw advice and guidance while 145 homelessness cases were closed.
Data over the previous two years, between 2021/22 and 2022/23, showed people coming forward about homelessness, referred to as homelessness presentations, rose from 2,439 to 3,251.
The update was presented in the context of the cost of living crisis, with housing bosses noting an increased complexity of cases, “failed tenancies”, repeat homelessness and pressure on support providers.
The main reasons for homelessness in South Tyneside over the last few years continue to be linked to relationship breakdowns, “family no longer [being] able to accommodate” and private tenancies ending.
However specific data on rough sleepers in the borough prompted concerns from councillors on the People Select Committee.
The data measured a number of factors including the number of rough sleepers at the end of the month (a single night figure), rough sleepers throughout the month, new rough sleepers and repeat rough sleepers.
When comparing data from May, 2022 to May, 2023, the numbers in each category had either doubled or tripled.
Anna Milner, South Tyneside Council’s service lead for strategic and supported housing, described the increase in rough sleepers as “significant” and “very worrying”.
Data included 10 rough sleepers being recorded at the end of May, 2023, compared to five rough sleepers in May, 2022.
The number of rough sleepers throughout the month also jumped from nine to 30 over the same period, as well as new rough sleepers increased from six to 19.
In addition, the number of repeat rough sleepers almost tripled, with an increase from four to 11.
There were also peaks in the number of rough sleepers in 2022 with 25 and 26 recorded throughout October and November respectively.
Data was presented to the People Select Committee at a meeting at South Shields Town Hall on October 18, 2023.
Council officer Anna Milner said the “numbers are not numbers that we should see and have ever seen before”.
Although the council has outreach services, the meeting heard the “lack of accommodation means we can’t always move them on”.
It was noted that some of the individual circumstances of rough sleepers makes it difficult for them to sustain tenancies or be placed in communal or supported accommodation, as well as the wider issue of some private landlords “withdrawing from the market”.
“I think it’s an understandably complex service, it’s not just as easy as putting somebody in a hotel and waiting until they can find a home, there’s a lot of things that we need to manage,” housing boss Anna Milner explained.
Councillors heard there used to be a “seasonal pattern” of rough sleepers coming into South Tyneside from elsewhere during the summer months but that more people were now staying in the borough.
Council officers said there had been a review of council processes and that an action plan was being developed on the issue.
Initial findings identified a need to increase the amount of suitable accommodation, a focus on homelessness prevention, improved advice and support and achieving a “wider understanding of homelessness”.
It was also noted that the council had been successful in receiving an “uplift” in external rough sleeper funding towards staff, outreach work and accommodation.
Elsewhere, the council will activate its “severe weather emergency protocol” offering emergency accommodation during colder weather as a “humanitarian response to people living on the street”.
Following questions from councillors, housing bosses confirmed the majority of rough sleepers were from South Tyneside but that there were cases after the Covid-19 pandemic of people travelling from as far as Bradford or Birmingham.
It was noted that the council would work on a case-by-case basis to try and “reconnect them to their place of origin” but that in some cases this was not possible.
Councillor Liz McHugh, chair of the People Select Committee, thanked housing officers for “going above and beyond”.
Councillor David Francis added he was “alarmed” by the rough sleeping statistics and agreed part of the homelessness issue was “the lack of suitable accommodation”.
Cllr Francis also questioned whether, to some extent, social housing “adequately meets the need of the borough” as some properties sometimes “sit empty” for months.
Housing bosses said the majority of the council’s empty stock was sheltered housing, and there was a question of whether it could be “re-purposed” in future to “meet the needs of other groups”.
Central government’s ‘Everyone In’ directive to councils during the Covid-19 pandemic was also referenced during the meeting as an example of a political action which made a major impact on alleviating rough sleeping and homelessness.
However, Anna Milner suggested the scheme’s impact was temporary and that increased homelessness was being caused by other social issues.
She added: “The naivety from Central Government was it was a one hit and homelessness was resolved forever.
“But unfortunately other social aspects have had an impact on that and actually we have seen a massive increase.
“I think there were a lot of people that were sofa surfing and a lot of people under the radar that no longer remain under the radar and unfortunately find themselves on the street”.
Homelessness and rough sleeping figures presented to councillors can be viewed on South Tyneside Council’s website.