Homeless crisis hits new heights in St Albans

Premier Inn

Premier Inn - Credit: Archant

Housing the homeless continues to be a challenge for the district council with latest statistics showing demand for temporary accommodation has risen from a year ago.

The situation does not surprise one former St Albans man, who was forced to move his family 140 miles away to Staffordshire from the city he was “booted out of” because of a lack of accommodation for homeless people.

Earlier this month the Herts Advertiser revealed that nearly £4,000 of taxpayers’ money has been spent footing the bill to accommodate homeless people in the new £8.1 million Premier Inn hotel in the city centre.

St Albans council confirmed it has been forced to use the hotel as it was struggling to cope with a burgeoning number of homeless people, which has resulted in a 1,054 per cent - more than tenfold - increase in spending on temporary accommodation.

And figures released at the council’s cabinet meeting last Thursday (19) show that the number of households in temporary accommodation continues to be high, with 110 in February compared to 103 a year ago.

Last month the council’s housing team dealt with 136 enquiries from homeless people, bringing the total to 1,717 since April 2014.

The average time spent in temporary accommodation is 28 weeks - up from 19 weeks a year ago.

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Revelations that the council has had to resort to use bed and breakfast accommodation including the Premier Inn to cope with demand when there is a shortfall in alternative housing comes as no surprise to former resident Colin Foster.

He has been forced to move to Stoke-on-Trent as the council was unable to provide suitable accommodation for his family of five, despite his children attending local schools.

Colin had been working as a resident caretaker at St George’s School in Harpenden when he suffered a massive heart attack a month before his 65th birthday. just before he was due to retire. As a result he had to undergo a triple bypass operation.

After weeks in temporary accommodation, the council told Colin his family had to move elsewhere and offered to help pay a portion of his rent in private accommodation. But because of his illness, Colin was unable to pay the remainder of the rental costs.

He said: “We were absolutely disgusted at the way in which we were treated.

“Since we were evicted we have started to rebuild our lives 140 miles away, where it is affordable to live.”

Colin said that while he was treated “like scum” by the district council, the authority’s counterparts in Stoke had “been helpful, treating us with a sense of humanity”.

He added: “Maybe St Albans council should set up a display in the city urging homeless people in St Albans to consider Stoke as an ideal area for their new home?”

The district council’s head of housing Karen Dragovic said that three-bedroom homes, such as those sought by Colin, were in short supply and in high demand.

She added: “Last year we let out 44 three-bedroom houses to families. We currently have 43 households on our register and 120 people on our transfer list waiting for three-bedroom houses.”

Homes are allocated based on need and length of waiting time.