Homelessness and hardship is on the increase in Lancaster.
Lancaster District Homeless Action Service (LDHAS), has seen a three fold increase in people asking for help with food and benefit sanctions.
LDHAS manager Gary Welsh said “harsh benefit sanctions” were having a major effect on living standards, and the service was now seeing up to 15 people per day who are struggling to make ends meet.
He said: “We’re seeing three times more people than last year, and that fits in with the national picture.
“Since 2010, street homelessness has doubled across the country.
“We’re seeing service users having problems with Universal Credit. A lot of our users don’t have access to a computer or are computer illiterate.
“They’re being paid monthly rather than fortnightly, and this is a big issue because people with addictions struggle to manage their money.
“In some cases it’s gone in two days.
“People can say that’s their own fault, but we understand how strong addiction can be.
“We’re seeing people being sanctioned quite a lot. There’s a set of things that have to be done, but for some people it’s like asking them to climb Mount Everest.”
The warning comes as Lancaster City Council triggered its Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) on Monday, instigated when night time temperature is predicted to be zero degrees Celsius or below on any given night.
Mr Welsh said: “The sanctions are harsh, sometimes up to three months without any help, and that includes housing benefits as well. We usually deal with street homeless but we’re seeing more and more people coming through that are getting into struggles, struggling with tenancies, not having enough food to eat. There’s people coming here who still have a house, who are seriously struggling, so obviously the current system isn’t working.”
Coun Karen Leytham, cabinet member with responsibility for health and housing, said: “SWEP was in fact triggered close to mid-day on Monday this week when members of the team located four sleeping rough, three of whom refused any offers of emergency accommodation.
“If anyone is concerned about someone sleeping rough, report what you have seen to StreetLink (0300 500 0914) so that the council’s specialist team of staff can bring them in out of the cold and connect them to other local services which can get them back on their feet.”
“A lot of statutory services seem to be cutting back because there isn’t the money to provide them.
“Now we hear that the city council’s Supporting People money has been cut, and could disappear altogether in April next year.
Our age range is people from their late 20s to their sixties, majority male.
“We’ve seen a lot more Eastern European people, people who have come over to work, lost their job, and there’s very little for them.
Coun Karen Leytham, “In cases of severe weather when the night time temperature, the council’s Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP not “The Sweep”) is triggered to ensure help gets to anyone who might be sleeping rough in the district.
“When SWEP is triggered, the council will contact its voluntary and statutory sector partners by email to advise that the SWEP is in place with details of who to contact if they identify any rough sleepers. The Council’s Rough Sleeper Outreach Team will search the streets for known rough sleepers to offer accommodation in the hope that they accept the help and advice on offer.
“StreetLink is the most effective way of alerting local authorities and specialist services to someone who may be in desperate need of help, whatever the time of day or night. You can contact StreetLink by telephoning the 24/7 StreetLink phone line 0300 500 0914 or report your concerns using the StreetLink website www.streetlink.org.uk At evenings and weekends you can call Lancaster City Council’s out of hours service tel. 01524 67099.”
The Sweep - Severe Weather Safety Protocol - this is a humanitarian obligation that local authorities must fulfil when the temperature drops below zero, to prevent deaths on the street. They will look to put people into a B&B.