Hidden Homelessness – Surrey’s Secret

Overheard in a Farnham pub.

“When was the last time you saw someone sleeping on the streets of Farnham?  Exactly.  There are no homeless people around here”

Homelessness means not having a home. People who have no roof over their head do sleep on the street and in doorways.  However much more homelessness is hidden. You could be homeless if you sleep on a friend’s sofa or in their spare room, or in a garden shed.  You might still think homelessness cannot be an issue in affluent, leafy Surrey, even if it is hidden  In the last four months alone Waverley CAB has helped people with problems in which homelessness or the threat of homelessness was an issue almost fifty times.  The underlying causes include debt, (often as a result of difficulty in securing benefits), failing marriages and relationships and domestic violence.

Homelessness affects a wide range of people especially those with particular needs, for example:

–      a young person leaving home for the first time or leaving care

–      an offender leaving prison

–      a pregnant woman with nowhere to stay when the baby comes

–      someone who isresponsible for bringing up children

–      someone living on benefits or a low income

–     those affected by housing benefit cuts

–      an asylum seeker, refugee or person from abroad

If you believe you are homeless or threatened with homelessness you may be able to get help from the Housing Options team at Waverley Borough Council.  Social services at Surrey County Council may help some people if the housing team at Waverley can’t or won’t (for example because they decide a family is intentionally homeless).  Local councils have a legal duty to help you although the definition of who qualifies for help is complex. The Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities published by the then government in 2006 was over 250 pages long and several supplements have been published since . Some Councils (allegedly) use this complexity to find reasons not to declare people as homeless or threatened with homelessness. This is known as ‘gatekeeping’.

Some charities for the homeless may be able to help if you are single (or a couple without children), or a young person. Some provide temporary emergency accommodation such as night shelters or hostels, or practical help in day centres.

If you are found to be eligible for help, homeless, have a priority need and are not intentionally homeless, the local authority may give you temporary accommodation (this can include bed and breakfast some distance away). They don’t have to provide accommodation from their own properties. They can house you in various ways, for example, by referring you to a housing association, or arranging accommodation with a private landlord.  This will bring their duty to rehouse you to an end.

You can get free help and advice from Shelter the homelessness charity via their website http://england.shelter.org.uk/ or by telephone on 0300 330 1234 from Monday – Friday 9am-5pm.  You can also get access to free specialist advice from the National Homelessness Advice Service, a partnership formed between Shelter and Citizens Advice twenty years ago by calling your local CAB on 0844 848 7969.  The advice is free although calls cost about 5p/min from a landline and charges for a mobile could be a lot more.


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