Shock homelessness figures prove Northampton has a housing problem says charity boss

Robin Burgess, here speaking to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn during his visit to the Hope Centre last year, says Northampton has a specific housing problem that needs addressing.
Robin Burgess, here speaking to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn during his visit to the Hope Centre last year, says Northampton has a specific housing problem that needs addressing.

Overpriced homes, a lack of social housing and crumbling local services are causing a perfect storm for homelessness in Northamptonshire. And it’s only going to get worse.

That claim, by the CEO of the Hope Centre, Robin Burgess, came this week after a shock report laid bare the true scale of the county’s worsening housing crisis.

In the past year, the overall number of homeless people in the East Midlands was 7,285 people, according to the charity Shelter, a rise of 440 on last year’s figures.

Yet the study revealed almost a quarter of those were from just three of our county towns – Wellingborough, Kettering and Northampton.

The three towns took the top three spots for homelessness rates in the region, with Wellingborough occupying first place, adding weight to the argument that Northampton and its neighbours have a specific set of problems which desperately needs addressing.

One in 200 people living in Wellingborough are either sleeping on the streets or stuck in temporary accommodation, including hostels and B&Bs.

In Kettering, that figure is one in 251 people and in Northampton it is one in 278.

To add scale to the figures, only the city of Derby came close to a Northamptonshire town with one in 330 people there classed as homeless.

Mr Burgess, whose homelessness charity is still facing eviction from its purpose-built home in Campbell Street despite a 12,000-strong petition to save it, said Northampton and its neighbours were caught in a “perfect storm”.

“It is partly due to our proximity to London,” he said. “Because it is within easy commuting distance, it’s the kind of place where house prices are probably slightly more than they should be.

“It’s also a very low wage economy. People can’t afford rentals.

“The lack of social housing being built, coupled with the private sector pricing, means people are being priced out of homes.”

This week, the Chronicle and Echo spoke to some of the desperate people in Northampton almost certain to spend Christmas without a home to call their own.

Read Mitchell's story here.

But the Hope Centre CEO said the financial woes at the county council – which is squeezing services for people in care, reducing library provision and closing childrens’ centres – will only see the proportion of people without a home rise.

Completing all the elements for a perfect storm: Universal Credit was rolled out in Northampton a fortnight ago, meaning those making new benefit claims will face a five-week delay before receiving their first cheque.

“Universal Credit is going to make people homeless – that is a fact,” Mr Burgess added. “You can see this everywhere else it has been rolled out.”

The Hope Centre provides a variety of day services and a soup kitchen for people who are homeless, or on the verge of being so.

The landlord of Oasis House, where it is based – Midland Heart – wants to evict the charity to increase the amount of temporary accommodation available there.

Mr Burgess believes this will remove a vital safety net for people “on the absolute breadline” and is urging more to sign the petition to keep its services in Campbell Street.

Shelter too has launched an urgent appeal, calling on the public to support its frontline advisers.

CEO of Shelter, Polly Neate, said: “Due to the perfect storm of spiralling rents, welfare cuts and a total lack of social housing, record numbers of people are sleeping out on the streets or stuck in the cramped confines of a hostel room. We desperately need action now to change tomorrow for the hundreds of thousands whose lives will be blighted by homelessness this winter.”

Overall, almost 320,000 people in Britain are now homeless – an increase of 13,000 people since last year.