Rural body tells of housing crisis

JOHN PLUMMER

A homelessness charity has launched a recruitment drive and warned of a spiralling crisis facing "the hidden homeless

in rural communities.

The Coastal Homeless Action Group is advertising for four staff to help it cope with the increasing number of rough sleepers in Suffolk. The charity began a decade ago with a staff of two. By the time the new posts are filled, it will have 27.

The low agricultural wage structure combined with the high price of houses, many of which are empty second homes owned by an urban elite, has caused the problem to escalate.Suffolk Heritage Housing Association has a waiting list of 220 people for the town of Woodbridge alone.

Paul Hudson, housing enabler at the Coastal Homeless Action Group, said: "Sussex is a wonderful part of the country but it's becoming like Surrey - no one can afford to live here.

Even doctors, nurses and dentists are struggling.

"The boom in house prices is causing people to sell properties that they previously rented. A single bedroom property can cost £450 to £475 a month which is beyond the reach of people living on an agricultural wage structure."

Hudson believes the situation in Sussex reflects a national trend. "Rural homelessness does not get the attention it deserves because if you go to major cities, you see people sleeping rough in doorways. But in rural areas, they tend to sofa hop or sleep in fields in summer. Then in winter they come knocking on our door,

he said.

The Coastal Housing Action Group, which covers a population of 280,000 around Ipswich and Felixstowe, helps homeless people aged up to 25. Last year 680 people visited its centre in Saxmundham.

The group also operates a Rent Up Front scheme in which it sub-lets properties off private landlords on behalf of people on low income. Many service-users are prevented from hiring accommodation because of delays in receiving income support.

Funding is through the Deputy Prime Minister's office, the East of England Development Agency and local bodies including the Quakers, and Suffolk county council.

In its paper Preventing homelessness in the countryside: what works? published this year, the Countryside Agency claimed rural homelessness had risen as a proportion of the total number of homeless people in the last decade.

A Shelter spokeswoman said more people in rural areas were approaching its advice centres.

"Shelter is concerned that the issue of homelessness in rural areas has too often been ignored because of more visible forms of homelessness in urban areas."

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