Half a million pounds spent on hotel fees to accommodate Stevenage rough sleepers during pandemic
PUBLISHED: 08:32 16 June 2020
More than half a million pounds will be spent on accommodating Stevenage’s rough sleepers in hotels during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has emerged.
Stevenage Borough Council has so far spent £491,000 on block bookings for 48 homeless households at the Holiday Inn Express, and a separate hotel in Stansted – only marginally offset by a £11.5k government grant.
The government had originally asked councils to move all rough sleepers out of hotels by June 11 – but SBC has now asked for a six week extension, as the deadline was deemed “offensive” and “unrealistic”.
Speaking at a meeting of the council’s executive last Wednesday, Jeannette Thomas, member for housing, health and older people, said: “You cannot suddenly magic up lots and lots of accommodation. We need a little bit of time to work through what our solutions are for each of these 48 households.”
It is understood the council has not been not paying full market prices on the bookings, and has been offered cut–price deals. However, SBC’s assistant director of housing development, Jaine Cresser, said that the pandemic has shown that hotels are an “expensive solution” for rough sleeping, and “not sustainable on a long-term basis.”
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Assistant director Ash Ahmed agreed that hotel bookings are “not the most appropriate for rough sleepers.”
Ash said: “It does provide a roof over the clients’ head – which is the only solution at the moment – but it is not brilliant in terms of delivering support, building up skills, or sustaining it for the long term.”
Council leader Sharon Taylor said she was “deeply offended” that councils had been asked by government to produce a solution by June 11, “as if we hadn’t been looking for solutions for many years.”
Cllr Taylor said: “The sheer crassness, telling those of us who have been trying to solve this problem for many years that we ‘need to to think about doing something’.
“It shows the huge gulf between the government’s reality, and what happens here on the frontline.”
Over the coming months, Stevenage Borough Council is exploring longer term solutions to rehouse its rough sleepers, including acquiring properties on the open market, and making use of the private rental sector.
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