Crisis: council's hands tied as homeless live in tents

PUBLISHED: 09:12 17 June 2009 | UPDATED: 23:41 15 June 2010

IT is a scene that would be more in keeping with a refugee camp than the rural idyll of an East Devon market town but, increasingly, the homeless are going to extreme lengths to stay in the place they know best.

IT is a scene that would be more in keeping with a refugee camp than the rural idyll of an East Devon market town but, increasingly, the homeless are going to extreme lengths to stay in the place they know best.Tents have become the desperate last resort of those struggling to find affordable accommodation in Honiton.The shocking truth is that their dwellers are not tramps but local people who have nowhere else to go.At least four separate tents are currently being used in the town to house those who fall outside of East Devon District Council's 'genuine homeless' criteria. They are people without children; the otherwise hidden homeless, who fail to quality for a temporary roof over their heads.They are not even entitled to bed and breakfast accommodation - not by the decree of EDDC, but by law.When Scott Martin and his partner, Vicky Neal, found themselves living in a tent, they turned to recently-elected district councillor Marion Olive for help. The couple felt they were being penalised by the system for not having children.Councillor Olive is concerned young couples may feel pressured into starting families just to gain housing."I think it is very sad that people have to live in tents," she said."I feel very sorry for young couples with no children."It's almost as though they are being forced into having babies to have a home."Councillor Olive knows there is no easy answer to Honiton's affordable housing crisis.She said: "I think we have to do something to help, but it is a very, very difficult situation. "How do we progress?"Councillor Olive, while acknowledging the issue of affordable housing is newsworthy, said she didn't want to overly highlight the fact that people are living in tents in Honiton - in case they are moved on and find themselves with nowhere at all.Following a recent report in the Herald that police were called to Roundball Hill to deal with a woman who was threatening to commit suicide, our newsdesk received a call from a desperate young female.She said she was homeless and living in a tent near the beauty spot.Other people were also living in tents, she said, at locations around the town. She was aware of at least four.We were hoping to meet the woman, but she did not make further contact.A spokeswoman for charity Shelter said: "Unfortunately, this is quite common across the country."If you are assessed to be intentionally homeless, the local authority has no duty towards you."Finding yourself living in a tent must be dreadful."Shelter, which campaigns for more affordable housing and offers free legal advice to the homeless, says local authorities are not to blame for the lack of affordable housing.The charity believes the rot set in when Margaret Thatcher gave council house tenants the right to buy their homes in the 1970s."It reduced the country's stock of affordable housing considerably," the spokeswoman said.The total number of people classed as genuinely homeless in East Devon last year was under 10. The authority says it often finds, when it investigates, that people who claim to be homeless are, in fact, not."If people are genuinely homeless. we will provide immediate housing," said a spokeswoman.

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