Housing and Health
I am chiefly responsible for the scrutiny of of health and adult social care at Hampshire County Council. The brief is very wide.
It isn’t just examining how our NHS works locally, or even how Hampshire County Council delivers services.
It is a case of monitoring how everything works for the benefit of Hampshire residents, public and private sector and at all levels of government.
One of the things I am very sure about is that it is practically impossible for people to maintain a healthy life without secure, good quality housing.
As a New Forest District Councillor, I was pleased when the authority recently decided to get to grips with the problems of homelessness in the District.
I considered it such a serious issue that it was only right to set party politics aside and join a panel that has been set up to consider ways in which to tackle the issue.
There are a few myths surrounding the issue of homelessness. One of these is that “it isn’t a serious issue in the relatively affluent areas like the New Forest”.
Sadly, this isn’t true.
The housing charity, Shelter, carried out some research showing that it is indeed a serious issue in the New Forest.
It is just that it isn’t always visible.
In large cities, you can see homeless people on the streets.
In our villages and towns, you tend not to see these people and imagine that’s because we don’t have the problems here.
Local charities who cater for the homeless will confirm that it is a significant problem and getting worse.
From time to time, I have somebody contact me about items that have been dumped in patches of woodland in the area. On several occasions, I have gone out to look and found that somebody has set up a tent, sometimes abandoned, with personal items (including suitcases) scattered around.
I have also heard of people sleeping in cars and vans for months on end.
Another myth is that “It is obvious that people are homeless”.
It isn’t. There are a lot of people who suddenly find themselves without a permanent home to live in and are pitched into a life of constantly sleeping in different places, called sofa surfing.
The point is that this can happen to anyone. It’s not always due to a drug, gambling or alcohol addiction, or even a mental health issue (although it often is).
It could be due to a breakdown of a relationship or somebody losing a job and can no longer pay the rent.
Members of the Homelessness Panel have agreed that we won’t be able to achieve anything on our own. It needs a multi–agency approach.
So, we will be working with other local authorities, the Police, Adult Services, Charities, the NHS and a range of other organisations with the aim of reducing the problems of homelessness in the area.
I understand that Winchester City Council has been very successful in reducing similar problems by taking this approach.
Recently, I joined other Councillors on a visit to local hostels and Bed & Breakfast accommodation that are used to give a temporary home to people.
There are not nearly enough hostel places and the Council is picking up an annual bill, approaching £400,000, fulfilling a legal duty, placing people in B & B establishments.
Such placements are only supposed to be temporary, but I have spoken to people who have been stuck in these places for months or even years.
Clearly, it’s better than being out on the streets, but not at all satisfactory, especially if they happen to have children.
The Council has a long waiting list for council housing, having lost half it’s council housing stock in the last 20 year period under the “Right to buy” scheme.
These council homes were never replaced.
It’s clear that there has to be a change in policy and we need to be building more homes for local people that are genuinely affordable or available at reasonable rents.
Already we have a situation where most young people are forced to move away from this area because of high house prices.
It’s such a shame. Having your offspring live far away isn’t an attractive proposition, especially as we grow older.
This also has health and social care implications.