A senior Hastings councillor says a rise in rough sleeping has come as a result of the ‘systematic destruction of support services’ through Government cuts.
Speaking about rough sleeping in the town, Labour-led Hastings Borough Council’s lead member for housing Andy Batsford hit out at austerity cuts and the introduction of universal credit.
He said: “Before we go into what Hastings Council is doing to address the tragic issue of rough sleeping on our streets, I want to talk about responsibility and where the buck stops and why we see so many people putting their health and lives at risk.
“Over the last eight to nine years we have seen the systematic destruction of support services, statutory and voluntary, not only in Hastings but across the country. The Conservatives’ austerity programme has devastated the community safety nets that were in place.
“Then add to this to the car crash that is universal credit, a benefit system that seems to solely designed to undermine the lives of the most vulnerable in our town, leaving many with no means of supporting themselves or their families.
“All of these policies have led to a real crisis on our streets and for our town.”
Cllr Batsford’s comments come after plummeting temperatures triggered the council’s emergency accommodation plans for rough sleepers last month.
The plans – known as the Severe Weather and Emergency Protocol (SWEP) – triggered on January 17 after temperatures fell below 0°C.
In response the council offered rough sleepers temporary accommodation and also opened an emergency night shelter between January 18 and February 4 to make more space.
It also stepped up its rough sleepers outreach work with the Seaview Project – already taking place 2-3 times per week – to get support for rough sleepers.
At the last annual count in November 2018, Hastings was reported to have 48 verified rough sleepers – an increase of eight on the previous year.
According to Cllr Batsford, this number was brought down to 21 on a typical night in January as a result of the council’s emergency accommodation and other provisions such as the Snowflake night shelter.
Cllr Batsford said: “Reducing rough sleeping remains a challenge, given the very limited supply of temporary and long term housing solutions locally, and ongoing funding reductions to the council and partner services.
“SWEP was last triggered on January 17 [and] the council offered temporary accommodation to rough sleepers that night.
“Unfortunately, due to the limited supply of temporary accommodation locally, some of the placements offered were out of area. The council also covers transport costs for out of area placements.
“As the weather has now changed, SWEP has been deactivated but they will continue to monitor the forecast closely.”
Last year, Hastings and Eastbourne borough councils received a share of government funding to address rough sleeping within the towns.
The joint project aims to give extra support to long-term rough sleepers, working intensively to bring them into contact with a team of housing and health professionals.
According to Cllr Batsford, the project has been able to find housing for six former rough sleepers since its launch in the autumn of 2018.