A crack team which aimed to tackle a spiraling homeless crisis in Ely and the surrounding area, is celebrating three years of success.
The team were drafted in by East Cambridgeshire District Council in 2013 to reduce the costs of temporary accommodation and firefight a growing list of people “at risk” of homelessness.
Back then, the region’s three homeless hostels were full to bursting, there were 200 households considered to be in desperate need and 30 households in bed and breakfast accommodation, costing the local authority £750,000 a year.
But months after implementing a new strategy, they had emptied one of the hostels, reduced the priority list to single figures, slashed the cost of B&B placements to zero and handed a £250,000 saving back to the council.
Jo Brooks, Director of Operations, who managed the approach, said it had been the result of “collaboration and communication” as well as hard work.
“When we started we were looking at how to tackle the immediate problem, prevent it getting worse and put in place a plan for the future,” she said.
“We began by implementing a series of drop-in surgeries and forming a support network by working in conjunction with other council departments, external agencies and organisations.
“This included collaborating with prisons, hospitals and charities as well as forming relationships with private landlords.”
The latter involved kickstarting a deposits and rents loan system – a way to help people in hostels afford a private tenancy.
Money loaned to individuals is paid back to the council interest-free and in line with that person’s earnings or benefits.
So far the system has a 95% collection rate and has helped thousands of people find a place to call home.
Councillor Anna Bailey, chairman of Regulatory and Support Services Committee, said: “Homelessness is bad for everyone, for individuals, for families and for society as a whole. Homeless people are not just those struggling with drugs, alcohol or mental health issues. Any one of us is just two steps away from homelessness.
“A lot of our success has been a result of changing perceptions and educating people on the subject of homelessness.
“By intervening to help individuals and families before they end up on the streets, East Cambridgeshire District Council has essentially stamped out homelessness altogether.”
Three years after the new strategy was introduced, the housing department is preventing 450 households from becoming homeless every year.
The department has also gone from spending £1 million a year on the issue to having a spend of zero.
Angela Parmenter who joined the team in 2014 as Housing and Community Safety Manager said: “We are extremely proud of all we have achieved but we can’t afford to get complacent.
“Homelessness is about taking a joined up approach, to ensure that the most vulnerable in society have the help and support they need to get their lives back on track.
“We will continue to deliver that service to the best of our ability.”