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How to… tackle rural homelessness

A leading think tank has called for a new approach to the hidden problem of rural homelessness, including local forums, community hubs and new types of emergency accommodation.

The report by the IPPR, which was commissioned by the Hastoe Group housing association, found more than 6,000 households in rural areas became homeless last year.

The report recommends local authorities set up community homelessness hubs, which can offer help and advice to those at risk of becoming or experiencing homelessness.

It cites the example of the Freedom Centre in north Devon, which offers free hot meals, showers and other facilities, including internet access.

North Devon council has an office at the centre, which, the report says, helps to strengthen the links between the local authority and local voluntary sector organisations.

‘This enables households at risk of, or experiencing homelessness to be easily signposted to local authority services without having to face a potentially intimidating environment of a council building,’ the report states.

Solutions used to tackle homelessness in urban areas

‘may not be right for those in rural towns and villages’.

The report also recommends local authorities work with relevant partners in housing, health and the third sector through homelessness forums.

By working together in a forum format, it says, agencies can identify ongoing work in an area, link up services and monitor activity.

It quotes the example of the Cumbria homelessness forum, which brings together six district councils in the county.

Meetings are held quarterly and provide members with an opportunity to discuss local challenges.

‘Cumbria’s districts’ homelessness strategies have been developed in consultation with this forum and using the data each district holds, to ensure it accurately reflects the issues they face,’ the report adds.

The report also recommends homelessness forums carry out an audit of homelessness provision and related services in their areas to get a better picture of the challenges they face.

The forums should also devise a standard monitoring form for services and agencies to collect information about people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

IPPR research fellow Charlotte Snelling said many people believe homelessness is only a problem in big cities.

‘However, IPPR’s research shows that it is a real problem in rural areas too. It is often hidden with people forced to bed down in in outhouses, barns, tents and parked cars,’ said Ms Snelling.

‘However, this isn’t something we simply have to accept: building more affordable homes alongside putting in the right support from government would do much to tackle this issue.’

‘This will require politicians both locally and nationally to accept their responsibility to change things and put in place a much better strategy to do this,’ she added.

The chief executive of the Hastoe Group, Sue Chalkley, said it is clear from the report that ‘homelessness manifests differently across the country’ and solutions used to tackle it in urban areas ‘may not be the right approach for those in our rural towns and villages’.

‘Even a basic understanding of the number of rural people who are homeless, or sleeping rough, is often pitifully low,’ added Ms Chalkley.

‘The stigma of being visibly homeless in rural communities can be much stronger than in a city and, as a result, many will be bedding down tonight in hidden locations like outhouses, barns, tents and parked cars – making it much harder for traditional “head counts” to identify them.

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