HOMELESSNESS in West Berkshire has fallen by 60 per cent in the last five years, according to new Government figures.
Released on Friday, the statistics show there were 26 households in the district who reported being homeless (or being threatened with homelessness) between April 2016 and March 2017 – compared to 61 in 2011/12. Since March last year the number has reduced by 12 from 38.
The current figure means that 0.4 households in every 1,000 across West Berkshire are homeless, compared to one in every 1,000 households in 2011/12.
The figures, released by the Department for Communities and Local Government, include only those who have approached West Berkshire Council for help, with some then being housed in temporary accommodation, such as B&Bs and hostels.
However, the homelessness figures and the number of ‘rough sleepers’ are considered to be linked, with those reported as being homeless just one step away from sleeping on the streets.
Newbury MP Richard Benyon welcomed the reduction and praised the determined approach by West Berkshire Council and the local community.
He said more work must now be done to deal with the problem and hoped a government scheme, Housing First, which aims first and foremost at securing accommodation for the homeless, would be piloted in West Berkshire.
He said: “In order to get these factors addressed you have to get these people a postcode. In the past we’ve tried to deal with it the other way around.
“This piloting of Housing First I know will have a dramatic effect on the homelessness situation in West Berkshire.”
Mr Benyon also paid tribute to those dealing with homelessness on the streets, such as Newbury-based charity Loose Ends and Catherine Knight who has been spearheading a community response to tackle the problem.
“They are dealing with homelessness on a one to one basis – -they are finding the problem and dealing with it,” he said.
“I think together it could see us achieving what was once an unobtainable goal which is an end to homelessness.
“People have laughed when I’ve said that in public meetings but I think it’s a noble ambition and an achievable ambition.”
Catherine Knight, of West Berkshire Homeless, sparked a community-wide drive to end homeless in West Berkshire back in January.
Despite still being in the process of formally registering as a charity West Berkshire Homeless has so far helped seven people off the streets in the last six months thanks to funds raised from public donations.
She said: “There is still work to be done but I’m as positive now as when we made that initial call for the public to come together.”
Despite the dramatic fall in homelessness, this year’s figure is still more than five times higher than that of 2009/10 when just five households reported being homeless to West Berkshire Council.
However, Mr Benyon denied the significant increase seen between 2010 and 2012 (covering the first two years of the Conservative government) was a result of his party’s austerity drive.
The figures show that in that two year period the number of homeless in West Berkshire rose from five households to 61.
Mr Benyon said: “I think what had the greatest effect was the recession.
“The banking crisis followed by the recession caused a lot of difficulties for a lot of families.
“I think we need to be very careful about saying it was down to one thing, the same way nobody should take credit when the numbers were low.
“There are so many factors involved in homelessness.”