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Number of Stafford rough sleepers increases more than ten-fold during lockdown

By Kerry Ashdown | Stafford | News | Published: | Last Updated:

The number of known rough sleepers in Stafford has increased more than ten-fold during coronavirus lockdown, it has been revealed.

Stafford Borough Council reported two rough sleepers earlier this year – but the figure now stands at 23.

It comes despite more than £130,000 spent on additional support for homeless people during the pandemic.

All rough sleepers and sofa surfers who presented themselves to the council were initially housed in three hotels, a scrutiny committee heard.

Stafford Borough Council is forecast to have spent an extra £132,000 on homelessness services between April and June, the report said.

The council’s chief executive Tim Clegg told members: "We have very small numbers in normal times but there are a cohort who are sofa surfing or are staying in temporary accommodation and they found themselves in need of support.

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"That has been quite an undertaking – these are often the people with the most complex and long-term needs. The support provided to them has been tremendous but it comes at a cost.”

Councillor Jeremy Pert, cabinet member for community and health, said: "The requirement from central Government to house all rough sleepers gave us 24 to 48 hours. Every hotel in the country was closed unless it was for key workers.

"There were people offering us hotels but frequently they offered not one room but we had to take all rooms. As a borough council that isn’t the right way of spending public money.

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"We went from having two rough sleepers pre-lockdown to the point we had 23. At this time people have come out of the woodwork.

"It has been a Herculean job for the borough’s housing officers – something we couldn’t predict."

At the start of lockdown the borough was not only housing local rough sleepers, but those from neighbouring Stoke on Trent and Newcastle after their authorities used the Crown Hotel in Stone as emergency accommodation.

The move sparked anger in Stone from community leaders who said they had not been told about it beforehand, and were concerned about the effect on vulnerable people being housed miles away from their existing support networks in the city or Newcastle borough. Stoke on Trent City Council’s leader Abi Brown apologised for the lack of notification and alternative accommodation was later found in the Potteries for those who had been moved to Stone.

Stone councillor Jill Hood told Tuesday’s meeting: "I had hundreds of comments from residents. We were not notified that we would have homeless and rough sleepers put into the Crown.

"I understand these poor people needed to stay somewhere, but all these people were put in a town where they had no contacts and were struggling to get their prescriptions.

"Had there been communication with Stafford Borough Council members we could have spoken to our residents and allayed their fears, instead of having a lot of very frightened and nervous people and what resulted in chaos for almost a week."

Kerry Ashdown

By Kerry Ashdown

Local Democracy Reporting Service

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