A consultation proposing cuts to funding of homelessness organisations in Devon has prompted East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) Leader, Councillor Paul Arnott, to express his grave concerns in an open letter to Devon County Council’s Leader, John Hart.
The letter reads:
I am writing to you regarding Devon County Council's current consultation regarding Homelessness 18+ Prevention: Cessation of Contribution.
Both my Cabinet and the Senior Officer Team here at East Devon have grave concerns about the risks that this will present to us, and I wanted to share these with you as a matter of urgency. I understand other Districts are signalling similar concerns. I am aware of councillor colleagues who have been highlighting concerns through a number of media channels, and I understand Cllr Martin Pearce, the Portfolio Holder for Housing at Exeter, also addressed the matter at County’s Health and Adult Social Care Scrutiny Committee this week.
The decision to go out to Consultation on this matter appears to have been made with almost no notice and we were shocked by its sudden appearance. It is understood by us that over the past couple of years, officers have been engaged in discussion on potentially transferring this funding. We were not opposed to this in principle but understandably wanted confirmation that the funding stream from you would still be provided to us. This new step to potentially end this funding altogether appears both sudden and drastic.
In order to manage the increasing issue of homelessness in East Devon, referrals into Alexandra House, Gabriel House and the support we seek through Sanctuary have become an integral part of the service we offer people. You will be aware that these people are the most vulnerable in society, often from a background of street homelessness. They require specialist support and intervention in order to protect them, keep them safe and ensure a chance of a better future.
Without the intensive level of support that these projects offer, I fear that what is already a homelessness crisis in the county will escalate further. I note that that there has been a 28% rise in homelessness in Devon just in the last year. I'm sure you will agree that this represents a serious failure, and sits ill when we are assured that Homelessness was supposed to be one of this Government’s top priorities.
My officers at EDDC work brilliantly with the officers who manage these settings to provide positive outcomes for people. We are not a specialist provider of this level of support. This then begs the question as to what solutions we will actually be able to provide for people who present to us if we are not able to refer into these projects that provide the specialist support these vulnerable people need?
Although I appreciate that the Homelessness function sits with us at District, I hope you can see from the County perspective that this will only lead to increased demand on an already overstretched Adult Health and Social Care service/budget. Without the intervention and wrap around support that this funding is providing, these people will be in absolute crisis- they won’t have any chance of holding down accommodation placements.
I note the figures presented by YMCA Exeter this week which suggest that if the Exeter portion of this funding (£157,000) is removed it will lead to a potential increase of £924,000 to the health and social care budget. I am obliged to ask please if financial assessments have been done by County prior to the decision to consult on the cessation of this funding. To be frank if I may, this all makes little financial or practical sense.
As a consequence, my officers would be forced to make difficult decisions where they will have to consider the wider risk that some of these people present to the general public. It is then likely that this will lead to us not being able to provide them with safe solutions for temporary accommodation. What is to be done then?
It is also inconsistent that crosses the work we have been developing as part of the Devon Housing Commission and Task Force, which recognises the need for affordable supported housing as part of the overall housing needs in the county?
I am aware that the consultation period remains open until the 19th April, and we will be providing a full and detailed response in which we will provide details of risks around the increased costs to you and to us - and most importantly the human impact on the people we serve. This seems like is a short term financial fix which can only lead to problems of much greater scale in the future, all the while imperilling or mutual efforts to protect the most vulnerable in society.
As you'll be aware, John, in three years as Leader of East Devon District Council I have not written to you in such terms before. I greatly value the collegiate relationship County and the Districts have had at both member and officer level through Team Devon. However, in this matter I see an integral part of what this council is doing to address poverty in the District at imminent risk, and so I felt I simply must highlight these issues with you.
Councillor Paul Arnott
East Devon District Council