St Albans rough sleepers taken in during coronavirus face years-long wait for housing

PUBLISHED: 12:58 10 June 2020 | UPDATED: 12:58 10 June 2020

Rough sleepers rescued from the streets of St Albans face years in hostels as ballooning house prices mean even those earning high wages struggle to afford a home. Picture: Hannah Somerville.

Rough sleepers rescued from the streets of St Albans face years in hostels as ballooning house prices mean even those earning high wages struggle to afford a home. Picture: Hannah Somerville.

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Homeless Herts residents struggle to escape the streets because house prices are so high, said housing workers.

Lou Champness-Nye, from Hightown Housing Association, said soaring St Albans property values made it harder for homeless residents to get back on their feet. Picture: Hightown.Lou Champness-Nye, from Hightown Housing Association, said soaring St Albans property values made it harder for homeless residents to get back on their feet. Picture: Hightown.

Rough sleepers rescued from the streets of St Albans during the coronavirus pandemic now face years in hostels, due to spiralling house prices, a housing association has said.

Hightown Housing Association, which took in homeless people during the outbreak, said it often took two years or more to find properties for the people it helped.

Lou Champness-Nye, who runs homeless hostels for the group, said Hightown had helped to house 22 rough sleepers after the government demanded all homeless people be housed during the pandemic.

Many were locals who had fallen on hard times and now found themselves priced out of their hometown, Lou said. A common cause of their homelessness was a relationship breakdown.

Homeless St Albans residents are initially accommodated in Hightown's shelter, Open Door, which has had to employ extra staff during the coronavirus pandemic.Picture: Hightown.Homeless St Albans residents are initially accommodated in Hightown's shelter, Open Door, which has had to employ extra staff during the coronavirus pandemic.Picture: Hightown.

She said: “The vast majority of people accessing our service have a local connection to St Albans. The vast majority have been brought up and raised and gone to school here.”

The association’s boss, David Bogle, has now called on government to invest in building affordable homes in the area.

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Working with St Albans Council, Hightown initially provides rough sleepers with beds in its shelter, Open Door, but aims to move them on within 28 days to longer-term accommodation in its hostels, Kent House and Martin House.

Rough sleepers are housed in hostels like Martin House until they can become self-supporting. Picture: Hightown.Rough sleepers are housed in hostels like Martin House until they can become self-supporting. Picture: Hightown.

There, staff help them with problems like addictions and mental illness, enabling them to get back into work and become self-supporting.

But, said Lou, it often takes two years or more for affordable accommodation to become available.

In February, just as covid-19 was spreading across the UK, St Albans was named the tenth most expensive place to live in England and Wales.

Property values were almost 90 per cent higher than the norm, costing an average of £5,582 per square metre, compared to the England and Wales average of £2,954.

Hightown's boss David Bogle called on government to release funding for new, affordable housing in St Albans. Picture: Tim Matthews / Hightown Housing Association.Hightown's boss David Bogle called on government to release funding for new, affordable housing in St Albans. Picture: Tim Matthews / Hightown Housing Association.

“It’s very hard when it’s so affluent,” said Lou. “Private rents are very expensive. People have to be earning a very decent wage to afford private rent. So that option is really hard for homeless people in St Albans, even just to rent rooms in houses.”

Hightown’s backlog is now even greater than usual. Since government ordered all rough sleepers be accommodated, Open Door has had to bring in extra staff and keep people beyond the usual 28 days.

Government has pledged £433million to ensure rough sleepers accommodated during the pandemic are not put back out on the streets.

Mr Bogle said: “It’s a housing crisis. We need more housing. Government needs to get the money out and get the programme set up to spend it.”


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