Homeless crisis: ‘We got it wrong’

Homeless people have been sleeping in tents behind CMK's 99p store
Homeless people have been sleeping in tents behind CMK's 99p store

As homelessness across Milton Keynes spirals out of control concerned councillors this week confessed: ‘We got it wrong.’

And they admit they will consider everything from building mobile home parks to converting huge office blocks into flats in a bid to put the problem right.

The revelation comes after Labour leader Pete Marland pledged to put roofs over the heads of homeless people when his party took over the reins of Milton Keynes Council 16 months ago.

Instead the council is now handling 100 new applications of homelessness every month – and spending more than £1 million a year on temporary B&B accommodation.

Currently 148 families – totalling up to 400 people – are staying in budget hotels, hotels and B&Bs as far afield as Stansted, Reading and Cambridge.

Yet six months ago Labour’s Cabinet member for housing, Hannah O’Neill, made a brave pledge to “totally eradicate” the use of such places by December this year.

This week, with three months to go until her deadline, she told the Citizen: “We honestly thought we would be able to resolve homelessness but we underestimated how bad the problem would become. We got it wrong.”

Ms O’Neill and Mr Marland both blame the Tory government for the increase in evictions, rent arrears, sofa surfers and street sleepers.

Local Tories blame Labour’s “bad planning and housekeeping” for the surge.

But now Ms O’Neill is determined to slash the sad statistics. “I lie awake at night worrying about homelessness. It make feel feel guilty that I have a house,” she says.

Already the council is planning a rehabilitation project with St Mungo’s charity to help 70 families. They will live in short term flats and rooms across the city and receive training to find work and long term housing prospects.

Ironically the proposal comes less than three months after councillors voted to close down a Bletchley homeless hostel run by St Mungo’s – because neighbours complained it was anti-social.

MK Council also plans to start building 200 new rental houses by 2017. But with another 2,400 homeless applications due in the meantime, Ms O’Neill admits these make only a small dent.

She is appealing through the Citizen for businesses, landlords, housing associations and landowners to offer ideas on how to house the remaining masses.

“We would consider using mobile homes for cheap, ready-made accommodation to give us breathing space to work out something more permanent,” she said.

“I’m even investigating turning unused office blocks in areas such as CMK into places for the homeless. We would consider anything.”

She added: “It is a massive problem and it’s only going to get worse. Milton Keynes needs to think outside the box to resolve this.”