'Once in a lifetime chance' to end homelessness in Portsmouth with new plan

CITY housing bosses say they have a ‘once in a lifetime chance to prevent homelessness’ with plans to keep people off the streets for good as lockdown eases.

Monday, 6th July 2020, 5:51 pm
Updated Tuesday, 7th July 2020, 10:01 am

Portsmouth City Council is looking to bid for a slice of more than £120m aimed at providing homes for rough sleepers and ‘sofa surfers’ for the next 12 months, while a more permanent solution is found.

When lockdown was announced councils across the country were tasked with providing homes for all rough sleepers to allow them to self-isolate safely, which was funded by the government.

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A year-long plan in Portsmouth will see some rough sleepers housed in privately rented accommodation and others in buildings with on-site support. Picture: Shutterstock

In Portsmouth more than 200 people were found homes in various hotels across the city.

As part of this new interim plan it is proposed homeless people are provided with privately-rented accommodation, including in houses in multiple occupancy (HMO). Those that need ‘intensive on-site support’ will be housed in accommodation blocks or hotels.

Housing cabinet member, Councillor Darren Sanders, said: ‘This is a once in a lifetime chance to prevent homelessness from happening.

‘The government is saying there will be no return to night shelters and things like that.’

Portsmouth City Council housing cabinet member Councillor Darren Sanders outside Horatia House in Portsmouth. Picture: Malcolm Wells

Paul Fielding, the council's assistant director of housing, added: ‘It's really important we put in some resilience planning for this.

‘We wouldn't want there to be a second spike, months or a year down the line, or another pandemic, and be in the same place again where we need to find somewhere for people to stay so they can isolate.

‘In the interim it is likely we will be looking at existing buildings, we are having conversations with various building owners in the city about what we could use.’

It is thought the council's interim plans will cost around £2.5m. Cash for three government funds: £105m for interim plans, £23m to help house people with substance abuse issues and £700,000 to help care leavers.

In the meantime a permanent plan including creating or converting buildings for self-contained homes will be considered.

The council is also looking to extend its support beyond housing provision to help people find work.

‘We want to work with employers and colleges to provide employment and learning opportunities for rough sleepers,’ Cllr Sanders said.

‘It's not just about finding homes. It's also about giving people hope and a life they want to lead.’

City housing activist Cllr Cal Corkery welcomed the plans but had some reservations about using privately rented accommodation. He said: ‘We have got a unique opportunity as a city to really provide the support needed. A lot of people have been homeless for a long time and this could break the cycle and help them.

‘But I do have concerns about use of private rented accommodation, especially HMOs. If possible they should be avoided because they have a high failure rate when it comes to vulnerable people living there together.

‘I would like the council to be ambitious and use a housing first strategy where people are provided with self contained homes that aren't owned by landlords who put profits first.’

The interim plans will be discussed at a cabinet meeting on July 14.