Council housing chief denies Portsmouth homelessness made worse by closure of Leamington and Horatia House
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Carole Damper, CEO of the Roberts Centre, said the loss of Horatia and Leamington Houses in Somers Town was ‘partly’ to blame for the homelessness in the city becoming ‘worse’ than it has been for ‘10 to 15 years’.
It came as she warned of the accuracy of latest government figures, which say there were 26 rough sleepers on Portsmouth's streets in 2019.
The survey released yesterday, which sees people physically count the number of rough sleepers on the streets, recorded 19 in 2018.
Ms Damper said: ‘Of course rough sleeping is important, but it is a tiny part of the picture of homelessness.
‘My feeling is it’s probably worse now than the last 10 to 15 years and that has been partly exacerbated by the loss of the two tower blocks.
‘If you lose 272 units your options are much less and that is a huge pressure.'
Both the 1960s tower blocks were evacuated after removing their Grenfell-style cladding revealed weaknesses in their concrete.
Ms Damper said their loss coupled with the tenants being rehoused by the council dealt a blow to options for people facing homelessness.
She added: ‘They have increasing numbers of people presenting as homeless but less accommodation to put them in.’
Darren Sanders, Portsmouth City Council’s cabinet member for housing, said pressures on the system come from the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.
The law puts a duty on councils to give anyone at risk of homelessness access to meaningful help, irrespective of their level of need.
'That has led to real pressure on the local authority, that’s why we’re building new council homes, buying new homes and working with organisations like Hope Into Action,' said Councillor Sanders.
‘It’s not right to say putting residents' safety first at Leamington House and Horatia House has caused the problem.
‘The situation was caused by government rightly introducing this act but not giving councils enough resources to deal with the consequences.'
Ms Damper claimed a lack of Portsmouth accommodation last year, when both towers were evacuated, saw some people who presented as homeless being temporarily housed as far as Gatwick – with others encouraged to stay in hotels and B&Bs with no washing or cooking facilities.
Bev Saunders, founder of homelessness network Helping Hands Portsmouth, echoed her criticism of the government’s rough sleeping figures.
Her good cause meets homeless people regularly when it feeds them four times a week in the city centre.
‘I think the council are doing wonderful work, but the number is definitely much bigger,’ she said.
‘We cater for 30 people and although they're not all sleeping in doorways, we sometimes run out of food and I know there are lots of people sleeping rough who don’t come to us.'
Mike Taylor, operations director of homelessness charity the Society of St James, said the government figures were ‘an accurate representation of where we are in Portsmouth'.
However he added: ‘We have got 49 emergency night beds with Two Saints and they are usually full.’
The government survey found zero rough sleepers in Havant, compared to five in 2018, 10 in Fareham compared to 19 in 2018 and four in Gosport compared to zero in 2018.
It found 10 in Winchester – an increase of two - and one in East Hampshire, compared to four in 2018.