Homelessness rises in affluent city amid fears of worse to come

MAJOR concerns have been raised following a dramatic rise in the reported level of homelessness in one of Yorkshire's most affluent cities, as the aftershock of the recession has sparked a huge rise in the numbers of repossessions.

And with the impending cuts to housing benefits, which could result in two thirds of people on housing benefit being priced out of the private rental sector in York from October, it is feared the problem is going to get worse.

The latest statistics from the Department for Communities and Local Government show that 58 households have been accepted as homeless by York Council, an increase of 57 per cent from 37 in the previous quarter.

The figures also show 76 homeless households in York were forced to spend Christmas in temporary accommodation.

Yesterday, following a visit to the Arc Light homeless centre in York, Hugh Bayley, the Labour MP for the city, has warned more needed to be done to address the problem.

"I have real concerns for what is happening", he said.

"The quality of life in York depends on their being a wide range of housing available to all people.

"If we want the city to be a decent place to live then nobody should be left out.

"The government plans for housing are going to lead to increased levels of homelessness because they are reducing the number of houses being built and made available for affordable housing while also having a reduction in housing benefits.

"If somebody literally has nowhere to go, their life unravels incredibly quickly and they become very vulnerable – my visit was a stark reminder of what can happen."

Coun James Alexander, the leader of the York Labour group, said: "This sharp increase is an incredibly worrying consequence of current national economic policy.

"I have been talking to council officers about these housing concerns and there is an acceptance that the new national housing policy will lead to an increase in York's homelessness.

"Reductions to the local housing allowance rate means over two thirds of York's private rented sector will be outside the reach of people on housing benefit, while capping housing benefit along regional lines will also hurt York residents due to higher than the regional average rental price."

Coun Andrew Waller, the leader of York Council, said there had been a steady decline in the number of homeless residents in York but admitted spikes in statistics did occur.

He said: "York has had an excellent record in reducing the number of homeless in the city over the last seven years – figures were at an all time record low at the end of March 2010.

"We are not complacent though and recognise that the state of the economy does influence the figures, and that peaks can occur particularly in the winter months.

"We will continue to work with partners such to protect the most vulnerable.

"In addition we hope to start to build the first new council houses in the city for a generation when the Lilbourn Drive scheme starts in a few weeks time.

"It is initiatives like this which really address the underlying cause of homelessness."

Campbell Robb, chief executive of the homeless charity Shelter, said: "Already in Britain every two minutes someone faces the nightmare of losing their home, so it's really worrying to see homelessness is on the rise in York.

"We know from the cases we see every day that just one single thing, like a bout of illness, rent increase or drop in income, is all that's needed to push people into a spiral of debt and arrears that can lead to the loss of their home.

"That's why it's absolutely vital that we raise awareness of the problem of homelessness in the city and I would urge anyone struggling with their housing costs to urgently seek advice.

"Shelter's free housing helpline is there to help when things start to spiral out of control."