by Neasa MacErlean
The Canterbury area is coming closer to “American-style homelessness” where even families are sleeping rough, according to the head of the Catching Lives charity.
While government policy is to “abolish” rough sleeping by 2027, Terry Gore says that a lack of accommodation, rising rental prices and an inadequate welfare benefits systems are pushing numbers up.
“You will see families sleeping in cars because they can’t afford the rent,” Mr Gore said. “Families are sleeping in caravans in Herne Bay. People are starting to have to chose between living and paying the rent. As gaps get bigger, you will see families rough sleeping.”
The office of Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield is also concerned. “It is already happening,” said Charlotte Cornell, Ms Duffield’s chief of staff.
“We have seen people take offers of kindness from friends — sofa surfing — and in between there have been some nights in the car.”
The introduction of Universal Credit — the controversial new benefits system — is expected to push up the numbers of people having difficulty paying the rent.
Families can find themselves given temporary accommodation miles away from their former homes, meaning that the children are a train and bus journey away from their schools.
Mr Gore said: “The council then states ‘we have fulfilled our obligations’ and leaves the family to sort themselves out.”
He points to a case in Cheltenham last year where an 18-year old boy and his 16-year old sister stayed with friends and family while their parents moved between sofas, hotels, B&Bs and a car.
The night shelter for rough sleepers opened on October 1, two months earlier than usual, this year.
It will run for six months, twice the normal period. Mr Gore is concerned, however, that the move will artificially reduce the number of people recorded as sleeping rough when the annual count takes place this month.
A mis-statement of the figures last year — when 36 were officially recorded rather than the 73 counted by Catching Lives — led to Canterbury getting a smaller grant from central government than it was entitled to, says the charity.
The city is to receive £331,784 from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government over the next two years.
Also working with the homeless in Canterbury has been Canon Clare Edwards, who left the Cathedral at the end of September after 14 years involved in pastoral care in the city.
She told the Canterbury Journal of her saddest and most positive experiences: “The saddest thing is seeing people sitting in doorways day after day. We have not managed to give everyone a home. So they are without the dignity of a home.”
“The best happened when the refugee crisis at Calais really took hold. We put tables outside the Cathedral and asked the public to donate.
“Each table had a sign on it — shoes and ‘jeans, for example. I remember one woman who just took off her cardigan and donated it there and then. We sent off car loads of clothes in the end.”