Dorset Council accommodating more than 90 homeless people during pandemic

By Local Democracy Report Trevor Bevins

MORE than 90 homeless people are being put up in bed and breakfast by Dorset Council, many as a direct result of the pandemic.

The council says it is now working on finding more in-house accommodation, including for around 35 rough sleepers – although they will be spread across the county, rather than be concentrated on Weymouth, as happened during the spring lockdown.

Housing brief holder Cllr Graham Carr-Jones says lesson were learned from the last time when security staff had to be used to keep the peace after repeated problems in and around Weymouth seafront and Park District.

He admitted that the council had been rushed into quick decisions after being told by the government to find accommodation for rough sleepers and the homeless within a short space of time, only to discover that few hotels and bed and breakfasts were prepared to take them.

He said that, at the time, it appeared to make sense to concentrate on Weymouth where facilities and expertise were already in place to help people with complex needs.

Weymouth councillor Pete Barrow has welcomed the decision not to concentrate on the resort.

“I cannot emphasise how badly it affected local people. It was awful,” he told a meeting of the people and health scrutiny committee.

“I’m glad lessons appear to have been learned.”

Fellow Weymouth councillor Howard Legg has asked the council to ensure that support is put in place in addition to providing accommodation.

He was told that arrangements had been made with various partners and statutory organisations.

Another Weymouth councillor, Dr Jon Orrell, said he was also pleased with the council’s actions to try and accommodate people around the county. It was, he said, better than leaving people on the streets.

“In Weymouth in years gone by we would have seen four or five people freezing to death in toilets during the winter,” he said.

Cllr Orrell said he had been perturbed to hear fresh residents’ complaints in Weymouth in the past month but said that now seemed to have subsided and he hoped it had just been a blip.

Youth hostels in Swanage and Portland are now being used for homeless people with plans for ten ‘pod’ spaces in Weymouth, run in partnership with the Bus Shelter project.

Other properties are also being bought for conversion to homeless accommodation with a building in Bridport already providing seven spaces and further conversion work planned for another seven.

Homes will also being provided in Blandford and, possibly, in other areas.

Corporate director for housing and community safety Andrew Billany said at the first lockdown an extra 63 homeless people had to be quickly found accommodation.

He told councillors that the authority had since been given £1.6million to help with projects for the homeless with the pot being added to with council funds.

He said the authority was now on track to create 39 new spaces with funding for 25 temporary accommodation spaces expected by the end of this March.

The council has recently been awarded an extra £300,000 for a joint project with partners to work with rough sleepers with drug and alcohol problems.

At mid-January there were eight people sleeping rough in the county, some of whom say they did not want accommodation found for them by the council.

The senior officer said the number of people being accommodated in bed and breakfast for more than six weeks had peaked at 139 in the summer but was down to 82 at the end of December, although it had since increased and now stood at 94. He said most of these were single people with only three families in B&B at the end of December.

The committee is to organise a working group into local homelessness and will take evidence from some of the organisations and charities which work in the sector.

Committee chair Cllr Gill Taylor said she also hoped it would also look at preparing for the effects of a predicted increase in homelessness, expected to come about as more people become unemployed and unable to pay rents.

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