The number of homeless people in Stevenage rose by 73 per cent last year, as the borough council reveals a full-scale homelessness crisis.

The council's draft Homelessness and Rough Sleeper Strategy, seen by the Comet, highlights the scourge of homelessness in the town - with nearly 400 cases in 2018/19.

The figures show a 33 per cent rise in the number of homeless families - with scores of children living in poverty - and a 69 per cent spike in homeless persons requiring temporary accommodation since 2014/15.

The town has also seen a 63 per cent rise in the rough sleeper count, raising urgent concerns for welfare with winter approaching.

In a wide-ranging strategy, Stevenage Borough Council has drafted a five-year plan to combat the crisis, centred around prevention, home building and greater provision of temporary accommodation.

The council aims to provide 500 new affordable homes over a 10-year period, with 300 homes to be built by 2020/21.

At an executive meeting last week, councillors discussed the possibility of a 'housing first' model within Stevenage - where homeless applicants are provided with accommodation as a first port of call.

The council also pledged to increase their portfolio of 90 temporary accommodation units, including the construction of a new local authority hostel.

This would mean minimising the use of bed and breakfasts, which are currently housing 26 homeless persons in the town as an emergency resort - but are not considered sustainable in the long term.

Leader of Stevenage Borough Council, Sharon Taylor, admitted the figures for Stevenage are "startling", also recognising that the solution to reducing homelessness "is not just down to SBC, but a far wider display of partners".

"The only way out of this problem is housing," Councillor Taylor said. "We won't rest on our laurels in Stevenage. Rest assured, the borough council won't tolerate homelessness."

The draft strategy also reveals that the most common reason for homelessness was eviction from privately rented accommodation, raising fears over the viability of the housing market.

Councillor Jackie Hollywell recognised that a number of "rough sleepers in the town have previously had tenancies, but have not been able to sustain them."