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Addressing homelessness in the South Hams is more than helping rough sleepers

21 January 2022

An aerial shot of Kingsbridge town looking towards the estuary at sunset

Local views on plans to prevent and relieve homelessness may be sought if South Hams District Council Executive Committee agree proposals for a public consultation. 

The need to update the District's Homeless Strategy will be discussed when the Executive Committee meet on 27 January 2022 to debate the latest update report on the Housing Crisis.  The report highlights that single and couples households, families, and people with additional needs are all at high risk of homelessness and must be prioritised alongside rough sleepers.

The Council's current Homeless Strategy is now due for review. A preliminary consultation with councillors took place at the start of 2022 to discuss ways to effectively prevent and relieve homelessness in the area. This includes working with partners to ensure support is in place to help residents to keep a tenancy once they get one. It also focuses on making sure there is enough of the right sort of homes available to meet the diverse needs of people at risk of homelessness.

If agreed at the Executive meeting, the Homeless Strategy public consultation will give local people the opportunity to share their views. This will mean the Council can be confident the proposed plans cover the right priorities and will meet the needs of everyone in the community. 

Cllr Judy Pearce, South Hams District Council's Executive Member for Housing said: "When you hear the word homeless, automatically you think about people sleeping rough in our towns. Our team work extensively with this group to provide support and housing options. Working with multiple agencies, this approach finds a suitable long-term home for someone who is homeless. It also significantly increases their chances of keeping the accommodation and making positive life choices. While not everyone chooses to take up this offer, the mix of intensive support, outreach work and open offer of accommodation has resulted in low numbers of people sleeping rough in the District. At our last rough sleeper count in November, we found two rough sleepers, a reduction from the seven counted three years ago. 

"However, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the issue of homelessness in the South Hams. There are many people in our District who do not have a home but are not sleeping rough - for example, sofa-surfers who are relying on friends and family to get by. As a Council, we're working to increase the number of properties locally available at below market rate to ease this issue. We're also making sure that the needs of this group of people are highlighted in our Homeless Strategy so they remain in focus. Whether you have been homeless, at risk of homelessness or have concerns for friends or family who may be at risk, please do spend a few minutes to share your views in our consultation. We want to make sure every view is heard and represented so our plans meet local needs, and so no one finds themselves without a roof over their heads." 

In the Housing Crisis update report, the Committee will read that 47 new homes were completed last quarter and are now available for local families at a below-market rate. This includes five affordable rented and four shared ownership homes at Applegate Park, Kingsbridge. This scheme, a partnership between local independent house builder Devonshire Homes, social housing provider LiveWest and South Hams District Council, is now home to Gemma Marshall and her family.

Gemma, who works in the pastoral support team at a local school, and David Marshall and their two children - Jacob, 10, and Phoebe, 7 - have twice been forced to move by private landlords after the homes they were living in were put up for sale.

With rental prices spiralling, the family found themselves homeless and were forced to move in with Gemma's parents.

Fearing they would have to leave Kingsbridge - the town in which Gemma went to school, having grown up in Salcombe - the couple contemplated the daunting prospect of leaving the area and finding new schools for their children. However, at the end of 2021, the family was able to secure one of the newly built affordable rental homes at Applegate Park.

Gemma, 38, said: "We have been privately renting since we both left university and in the last four years have been forced to move twice after the landlords served us section 21 notices.

"The last one came just before Christmas last year and we weren't able to find anywhere that was affordable. The competition was intense, and the rents being charged were incredibly high. 

"It was a really difficult time for us not having anywhere to live and the only accommodation we were being offered was a hotel room in Plymouth.

"So the only option we had was to move in with my parents and we used that time to bid on countless homes on the Devon Homechoice register in the hope we could find somewhere suitable.

"Then came the best news we could have ever imagined. We were accepted for one of LiveWest's affordable rental homes on a new development in Kingsbridge. It was beyond our wildest dreams."

The three-bedroom home means Jacob and Phoebe have their own bedrooms and will be able to remain at their current schools.

Gemma added: "I still can't believe it. I am still pinching myself. 

"It really does feel like the dawn of a new era for our family. 

"We have now got a stable home and don't have to live in fear of being asked to leave. The children absolutely love having their own bedrooms as they have been sharing rooms for the past year. The home is amazing. The finish is really good; they are really warm and the insulation is fantastic. The high-end finish really caps it off and we have got lovely views across open countryside.

 "I grew up in Salcombe, but I gave up hope of ever being able to afford a home there a long time ago.

"A lot of people in this area work in shops and businesses associated with tourism and so the wages aren't enough to access the housing market. 

Cllr Judy Pearce, South Hams District Council's Executive Member for Housing added: "Hearing Gemma's story really brings to life what we are striving to achieve - we are working hard with our partners to make sure more local people can afford to live in the communities they love.

"When we hear words like this it really brings home what a difference we can make for local people. We'll carry on looking at every option to make living in the South Hams more affordable for more people and hope we'll hear even more stories like that of the Marshall family."

James Reseigh, Director of Neighbourhoods for LiveWest, said: "As an organisation with a real focus on providing much-needed affordable homes, it has been fantastic to hear Gemma's story.

"Applegate Park in Kingsbridge is a perfect example of where we have been able to work in partnership to rent homes at below market levels and help families get access to safe, good quality, affordable homes in a location they love to live in. We wish the family all the very best for the future." 

If agreed at the Executive meeting, the Homeless Strategy public consultation will start in February 2022.

It is anticipated that a final draft of the strategy will be presented in Early Spring, with formal adoption from April 2022.

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