A NEW scheme to combat a surge in homelessness across Hambleton and Richmondshire has been launched amid grave concerns the recession could fuel an unseen crisis in the area.
Experts say there has been a worrying increase in people who are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless in both districts – which have some of the most expensive average house prices in Yorkshire.
As Government cuts start to bite harder, it is feared the problem could start to worsen over the course of this year.
Now a Homelessness Prevention Scheme has been launched, with a new series of roadshows taking place next week to offer help to some of the most vulnerable people in Hambleton and Richmondshire and assess the scale of the problem.
Hambleton District Council's Cabinet member for planning and housing, Coun Timothy Swales, said: "We have seen an increase in this over the last quarter and I feel there may be a surge as the worst of the hard times haven't really come yet. This is something that visitors here won't even notice.
"We are worried about this, we can see a way out of this but we need housebuilding to start and to get affordable homes built and in position.
"It is difficult for everyone at the moment, it is difficult to get a job and difficult to keep it as well.
"We are trying to get a scale for what people say their problems are."
The new scheme is aimed at people aged 16 and over who are experiencing difficulties in their housing situation, who are in transition from actual or threatened homelessness, or who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
As part of the initiative, two homelessness prevention teams have been set up in Northallerton and Richmond, and homelessness surgeries established in other market towns across the districts.
Officers from the charity Foundation – which works with vulnerable people of all ages – are also now in partnership alongside Hambleton and Richmondshire District Council's Housing Options team to resettle homeless people into permanent homes more quickly.
The National Housing Federation currently assess Hambleton and Richmondshire as having some of the most expensive properties in Yorkshire with average house prices now at 221,000.
The scheme's project manager, Jill Boak, said they are currently working at 80 per cent capacity and expect to be working at full capacity with 128 people by next month.
"These are very nice areas that are promoted because of their attractions to visitors but there are pockets of deprivation anywhere you go", she said.
"The key thing is for people to get support for it and not struggle alone or struggle through.
"There are always difficulties for young people in rural areas where not many services are delivered or they are widespread. The stock for social housing is reducing and there is nothing new being built.
"When someone is unemployed and struggling to meet the bills they lose their social networks and people can lose touch of their own identity which leads to mental health problems and risk of offending."
The roadshows to introduce the new scheme are taking place across markets in Thirsk, Hawes, Bedale, Northallerton, Richmond, Easingwold, Leyburn and Stokesley between January 31 and February 4.
Displays will also be in place at Hambleton's Civic Centre and Richmondshire's Community Office.
Meanwhile, because of the growing demand for affordable housing, a new campaign has been launched to ensure empty homes in Hambleton are being used.
The district council says it is undertaking an empty property survey, with officers placing all homes that have been vacant for more than six months on a new register and encouraging owners to bring them back into use.