Homeless families waiting to be housed in Southwark could be put up in shipping containers as the council’s bed and breakfast bill spirals out of control.
In January the borough had the highest number of people registering as homeless in its history, with more than two hundred people saying they were in urgent need of housing.
The council is legally obliged to house people in certain situations, but it often does not have a suitable property available, so it has to put them in hostels or bed and breakfast accommodation while they wait. A desperate shortage of available council housing is putting a strain on the limited number of temporary accommodation units owned by the council, forcing it to go more than two million over budget in the last year alone.
With increased government funding cuts on the cards this year there is no room for an increased housing budget, so Southwark’s cabinet member for housing, Richard Livingstone, is going to look at a scheme in Wimbledon, where shipping containers are being used for residential accommodation.
“It’s something that we need to consider,” said Cllr Livingstone. “These are the highest numbers of homeless we have ever had to deal with in this borough’s history, putting immense pressure on our housing system but we’re working hard to resolve that… the cheapest way forward is to have our own properties.”
The YMCA in Walthamstow has been using mYPad container homes since 2012, to give the young people in their hostel somewhere to move into at 30 per cent of minimum wage.
Cllr Livingstone says the containers are needed because the number of homeless applications to the council has gone up 64 per cent since 2013, from 927 to 1,521 this year, while the council’s stock of temporary accommodation has gone down due to increased private rent charges across London.
Last week the News reported that a legal agreement between the High Court and Southwark forced the council to stop ‘gatekeeping’ – turning people away who wanted to register as homeless, diverting them instead towards private rented properties. The changes the council made to its policies now ensures everyone who presents as homeless is registered and given a dedicated housing officer, leading to an increase in the number of applications the council now records.
“That sort of gate keeping no longer happens,” said Cllr Livingstone, who added that he thought the main reason for the steady hike in applications over the last three years had been welfare cuts and benefits sanctions.
“At the moment things are very hard. If it continues at this level it would be unsustainable,” he said, adding that he was confident the council’s plan to build more temporary accommodation units this year would help to solve the problem.
By the summer, three planned hostels should have been completed, including 54 units in Willow Walk, Bermondsey, 37 units on the Deynsford Estate in Camberwell and 42 units at Nortcott House, Blackfriars.
There are currently just over 12,000 people on Southwark’s housing waiting list, a reduction of 6,000 since our last report last year. This is because the council undertook a review and found that many applicants no longer required housing.