Support with housing issues is a good way of getting ahead of the homelessness problem. This can range from advice on clearing mortgage arrears and assistance with reducing heating costs to help with the costs of securing a private tenancy.
Support and advice for homeless people who aren’t eligible for statutory support is an area where charities have a unique role to play.
Bringing empty homes back into use is a specialist area for some charities in parts of the North East. This can offer opportunities for skills development and employment as well as increasing options for those at risk of homelessness.
Rates of owner occupation vary, but only Middlesbrough, Hartlepool and Newcastle have lower than the national average. This reflects the affordability of housing, with prices having increased more slowly than elsewhere in the UK. But the affordability of houses relative to wages is beginning to fall. The costs of rented accommodation may also be harder to meet in future if tenants find themselves in low-paid work or unemployed because housing benefits may not cover the full rent. Payment rules for the new Universal Credit may make it difficult for people to avoid falling into arrears.
In a region where problems like unemployment, fuel poverty and debt are relatively high, this suggests that support for homeowners and tenants in difficulty should be a priority if we are to prevent homelessness. Often this is provided through local voluntary organisations, notably law centres and Citizens Advice.
There are many reasons for homelessness. Alongside people evicted for mortgage and rent arrears, there are those fleeing domestic violence and those young people who are no longer able to live with their parents. Council support is rationed: the majority of people presenting as homeless (59%) will not be helped. Many of these will be young and in need of somewhere to stay to avoid the risk of abuse and exploitation. The voluntary sector plays a vital role in supporting those threatened with homelessness, or those ending up on the street, who do not meet the strict criteria for assistance from councils. This can range from family mediation through to temporary accommodation and the renovation of derelict properties for rent to homeless people.