HOMELESSNESS is on the rise among Yorkshire’s middle classes as the unrelenting economic crisis creates an underbelly of rough sleeping in some of the region’s most affluent areas.
High property prices, booming rental markets and the stigma of housing benefit in areas such as Harrogate and York have led to a “real possibility” that residents who fall on hard times may lose their homes and end up on the streets, charities are warning.
Andy Kirk, leader of the Harrogate Homeless Project’s No Second Night Out (NSNO) scheme, which provides emergency shelter to those at risk, said a “shocking” number of people were coming through the doors of its hostel.
“The real surprise for me is the amount of low-needs people being referred,” he said.
“We, of course, have a lot of people with issues historically associated with homelessness such as drug and alcohol dependency. But there is a real shift from this group to people who have found themselves homeless following relationship breakdowns, redundancy or being asked to leave by family and friends – basically through no fault of their own.”
The desirability of areas such as Harrogate means there is fierce competition for rental properties, which command higher prices than in less sought-after parts of the region, and landlords can be choosier about tenants, he added.
“Most agencies have a blanket policy on refusing households in receipt of benefit or impose huge upfront costs which price people out,” said Mr Kirk.
“You can see how something like redundancy could trigger a chain of events – relationship breakdown, unable to afford rent, eviction, running out of favour with friends and family – resulting in a real possibility of becoming street homeless.”
The problem often goes unnoticed in such areas as it is masked by their idyllic images, he warned.
“It’s not very often when you walk around places like Harrogate or Ripon that you’ll see someone bedding down in a shop doorway,” he said. “Because we’re quite rural a lot of our rough sleepers actually camp – they are quite hidden.
“Harrogate is a beautiful place to look at but there is this underbelly of street homelessness.”
The charity has helped to move 73 people into stable accommodation since its NSNO project was launched last October – “way above” expected numbers.
“I am really pleased with the results but at the same time it was shocking, the amount of people who came through,” said Mr Kirk.
The number of rough sleepers in Yorkshire has jumped by 37 per cent since 2010 compared with a 31 per cent rise nationally.
Some 157 people were sleeping on the region’s streets in autumn 2012, up from 115 in 2010.
The figures include a small but significant increase in York, where there were eight rough sleepers at the last count, up from two in 2010, and Richmondshire, where there were three last autumn compared with none two years previously.
The data is, however, a snapshot based on numbers found sleeping rough during a single night, and actual figures may be higher.
When the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, launched the city’s own NSNO project in January he said the problem had become “significantly more severe” in recent years, with the financial crisis leading to many ordinary people losing their jobs and “falling into a frighteningly swift downward spiral into homelessness”.
National charity Homeless Link, which distributed £20m of Government funding to 85 similar schemes across the country, is calling for more to be done to address the “chronic shortage” of affordable, quality housing and spiralling rental costs.
Spokeswoman Jacqui McCluskey said the new cap on benefits, including housing entitlement, would do little to help.
“The Government is trying to restrict prices in the private rental sector but the reality is, because there is such a shortage of accommodation, landlords can charge what they want and that is pricing the poorest out,” she said.
“We are really concerned about the lack of regulation in the rental sector.”