Tackling the hidden epidemic of homelessness

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When people talk about homelessness, most of us imagine someone sleeping rough in a shop doorway.

But the problem is one that could affect any one of us and not always in the way you might imagine.

Accommodation Concern, a Kettering charity that offers advice and support on housing issues, says it is people in employment who are struggling to make ends meet who are finding themselves in difficulty.

Accommodation Concern was established as a charity in 1987 and today it has 23 paid staff and a number of volunteers.

In 2010-11, it worked with more than 5,300 people, mainly from Kettering and Corby, who were struggling with housing difficulties.

The most common age of clients is between 31 and 59. The oldest person the charity has worked with is 93 and the youngest was 12. The 12-year-old was sleeping behind the bins of a supermarket after being left in the custody of his aunt, who then threw the child out.

Accommodation Concern was able to work with social services to resolve the situation.

Louise Hodgkinson, team leader of advice services, said: “We need to change the perception of homelessness. People think all homeless people are drug users, dossers and scroungers, and they are masters of their own destiny and have brought it on themselves. The reality is that is not the case at all.

“Our main reason for homelessness remains relationship breakdown.”

Tina Dutton, team leader of support services at Accommodation Concern, first came into contact with the charity for help after a marital breakdown.

In 2001 she separated from her husband and went to stay with some family in Spain for three months to clear her head.

But in her absence her husband had rented out their marital home, so when she returned home she found tenants living in her house.

She said: “As soon as I found out I came back. I had to stay with a friend and I came here to Accommodation Concern.”

Tina was offered short-term accommodation in a hostel but she didn’t want her 14-year-old son to have to stay there so he went to his paternal grandparents while she lived with her mum for a few months.

They eventually got a bedsit where they lived for three years before finding a house to rent.

The charity can also offer help to people struggling to meet their mortgage repayments.

Last year 1,170 families saw their homes repossessed, though this is the lowest number for nine years.

Louise says there is help available.

“With mortgaged properties it can be quite difficult but lenders are willing to negotiate terms to allow people to stay in their home, even if it’s just for a short time while they sell the property, rather than having to go to auction to sell it.

“There will be times that we cannot assist them, depending on their circumstances, and we would then support them through a homeless application with the local authority or into a private tenancy.

“It is all about minimising repeat homelessness and offering them as much support as possible.”

Earlier this month the Evening Telegraph reported on a makeshift camp which had become home to a group of rough sleepers near Kettering General Hospital.

Last year Accommodation Concern launched a street outreach project which aims to source accommodation and offer ongoing support to rough sleepers like these.

The charity’s chief executive Rachel Wilson said: “Homelessness is a hidden epidemic. A rough sleeper is unlikely to be sleeping in a shop doorway because it is unsafe. They are more likely to be on the edge of town sleeping in a tent.

“Rough sleepers can be quite entrenched in that and have problems with trusting organisations. We work to build up that level of trust to help them access services and can then match them to a landlord.”