Homeless crisis doubles in city

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MILTON Keynes Council is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds a year paying for homeless families to stay in bed and breakfast accommodation.

Now housing charity Shelter is calling for the money to be invested in bricks and mortar instead – to provide permanent homes for people in need.

Over the past two years the number of families in B&B establishments has doubled.

Currently the council is hiring 170 rooms, many as far afield as Wellingborough or Dunstable.

“It is a very rapid increase and it is certainly not ideal,” said Shelter manager Helene Vancliff.

She blames the surge in homeless families on an increasing lack of affordable housing in the city.

More homes are being repossessed as more people struggle to pay their mortgages. Meanwhile private rents have increased and more people cannot find the hefty deposits or guarantors required by landlords.

But the crux of the problem is that not enough social or affordable housing is being built to keep pace with Milton Keynes’ fast-growing population.

“There is generally increasing pressure on a very scare resource,” said Helene.

The average cost of bed and breakfast is £40 a night, though the council can negotiate lower rates for a long-term stay.

Government guidelines recommend that families should not be placed in bed and breakfast for longer than six weeks.

But, because of the scarcity of permanent homes, some families stay for much longer, say Shelter.

The cost is usually met by the council’s housing benefit department.

“We need to subsidise bricks and mortar rather than subsidising people,” said Helene.

“We need more social housing and more homes that people can afford,” she said.

This year the council announced plans to build a small cluster of bungalows for wheelchair users. This is its first building programme for years.