Homeless presentations to Salford City Council rocketed by almost 170 in 2012 but those the Council granted as being in need of priority housing fell, statistics obtained by the Salford Star reveal.
The number of people who declared themselves as homeless in Salford shot up from 599 in 2011 to 766 the following year as the effects of the recession and lack of employment continued to be felt.
However the amount Salford Council accepted as statutory homeless - not intentionally homeless and in priority need of housing, which includes a right to immediate temporary accommodation - decreased from 277 people in 2011 to 267 despite the increase in homeless presentations. This is just over a third of the overall number of people who approached the Council as homeless last year and an increase of only eight people since 2009.
Last year also saw the number of people the Council classed as potentially eligible for some form of help in finding a home but not in `priority' need quadruple from 37 in 2011 to 156 people. This means that while the Council admits they are homeless they do not have a legal obligation to house them.
The statistics highlight a broad failure to provide enough accommodation for the rising number of people coming to the Council for help. They also show how the narrow categories local councils adhere to as part of the national housing policy can remove them from the responsibility of ensuring there is enough long-term, instant access housing for residents in need of it.
Statistics released by Shelter last month also reveal that Salford City Council is failing to provide anywhere near enough council housing that is needed. According to Shelter statistics, 16,476 people were on Salford's council house waiting list in 2011, a number that has almost doubled since 2007. Since then the waiting list figures have surely gone up even higher, although the figures aren't easily available.
For people presenting as homeless but not classed as a priority, finding secure long-term accommodation can be a very drawn out process that can leave them in a housing limbo for months. It can make them vulnerable to sleeping rough, sofa surfing, living in hostels and relying on the goodwill of charities.
Homeless residents in Salford have criticised the Council for endangering lives by not doing enough to ensure all who are coming to it as homeless are re-housed quickly. Speaking from a drop-in centre in the city they said that priority for housing should be an entitlement of all not just a few.
"The term `priority' is ridiculous" said Craig "If you don't have a secure home should you not be a priority? A right to housing is a basic need, not a luxury we should have to queue up for.
"I think it's a term that's used to fob people off" he added "I see people on the streets everyday who obviously aren't seen as a priority by councils. I've got chronic pancreatitis but I'm still not a priority either. It can make you feel like you're being pushed to one side. I don't know what I'd have to do to become a priority…die?"
"The Council needs to prioritise building more social housing" he argued "I've been on the council housing list for six months and bid every week. When the benefit changes come in, it could mean more people join the list if they can't manage on their new benefits.
"Luckily I've managed to get a space in a night shelter for the past five weeks but I've had to sleep rough which has a big impact on you" he explained "I'm a recovering alcoholic so it has also been tough staying in shelters sometimes because you can be around people who are still hooked, it could make it harder for some people to give up.
Jane, another centre user, agreed that the Government and Salford City Council need to do much more, as tough times continue for people living in the area.
She said: "The UN says that access to housing is a human right. Why are they not taking notice of this in Salford and the rest of the UK? They should be doing more so that everyone has access to secure accommodation. I've seen lots of empty houses in Salford which could be used to house people. I think it's a disgrace that people have to live in shelters or god knows where when these buildings exist."
Even Scott, who was lucky in finding council housing quickly in comparison to other people at the drop-in, still had to live in shelters for several weeks.
He said: "I wasn't a priority need so was placed on the housing list and allowed to bid on properties. It took me a month to get somewhere."
Salford Mayor Ian Stewart was apparently unaware of his Council's own official statistics that highlight the gap between those presenting themselves as homeless and those accepted as priorities. He remained adamant, however, that the Council was doing what it could to re-house people.
"They're not the statistics that I have" said Stewart "My information is that the numbers coming through the door has not increased dramatically in Salford but the proportion that we accept as statutory homeless has increased."
Partway through his response he changed his mind to suggest an increase in both presentations and statutory homeless, the latter still at odds with the Council's figures provided to the Salford Star.
"Why is it that there's an increase in presentations and the number of statutory designated homeless?" he asked "Well it's because the number of other options, like the private sector, are reducing as benefits reduce. In all honesty that is going to get worse before it gets better.
"I believe" he added "that our bond scheme which we are offering to those who have found somewhere to live but can't afford a deposit is a good step that could help solve the issues."
How far the scheme, which is dependent on individual landlords' decisions to apply to become part of it, will work to realistically help ease the problem of the increasing amounts of people in the housing limbo, remains to be fully seen.
Total number of new council houses built in the years 2012 and 2011 through Salix and the City West Housing Trust organisations:
2011: 101... 2012: 0
See also previous Salford Star article Homeless In Salford - click here
In Part 2 – How Salford Council is replacing social housing with unaffordable private housing…