Leeds charity Homeless Street Angels say struggling families 'on the edge' of homelessness amid energy bill hike

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Thousands of households in Leeds were tipped into homelessness during the first 18 months of the coronavirus pandemic, figures reveal.

Leeds charity Homeless Street Angels said the demand for its services has grown exponentially and with living costs rising, more families are at risk now.

Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities figures show that 2,172 households in Leeds sought council support after becoming homeless between April 2020 and the end of September 2021.

Of those, 351 were households with children.

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Homeless Street Angels founders Becky (left) and Shelley JoyceHomeless Street Angels founders Becky (left) and Shelley Joyce
Homeless Street Angels founders Becky (left) and Shelley Joyce

Across England, 222,360 households have been pushed into homelessness since April 2020 – equivalent to a city the size of Liverpool.

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Funding boost for Leeds to tackle homelessness in the city announced on Tuesday

Housing charity Shelter said if someone has become repeatedly homeless over the 18 months, they would appear in the figures multiple times – though the charity estimates this to be a very small number of cases.

And Shelley Joyce, co-founder of Homeless Street Angels, said the charity was supporting seven families with food parcels before the pandemic – which has now increased to 173.

2,172 households in Leeds sought council support after becoming homeless in the first 18 months of the pandemic2,172 households in Leeds sought council support after becoming homeless in the first 18 months of the pandemic
2,172 households in Leeds sought council support after becoming homeless in the first 18 months of the pandemic

While this partly reflects the growth of the charity, Shelley said they are noticing more new faces sleeping rough during outreach projects, and fears this will only increase as the cost of living and energy bills skyrocket in April.

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"We've noticed a huge difference during the pandemic," Shelley said.

"People were losing their jobs, falling out with family or breaking up in relationships.

"A lot of the people we support struggle with mental health issues and the pandemic made that a whole lot worse.

"With the price hike in energy bills, it's going to make things even worse. People are just recovering from the pandemic.

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"We're going to see an influx of people homeless, without a doubt, because people are already on the edge now because they can't afford to eat or pay bills."

Bailiff-enforced evictions were banned for a large part of the pandemic – a measure introduced by the Government to prevent renters from being made homeless – though the ban was lifted in England on May 31.

Containing the first three full months’ worth of data after the eviction ban was lifted, the latest statistics show 36,510 English households became homeless between July and September 2021 – the equivalent of 397 every day.

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In Leeds, 350 households needed help because they were homeless over this time – up from 334 during the same period in 2020.

Shelley praised the work of Leeds City Council's Housing Options team to support struggling families and rough sleepers during the pandemic, such as housing the homeless in hotels during lockdowns.

But with families facing long waits for social housing and a rising number of bids for homes, she says the pandemic has had a rippling effect that is still "reverberating."

Shelley added: "We've paid a few of our clients' bills for them over the last couple of years to keep them in accommodation, because they were drowning in debt.

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"When you're on benefits, you don't have an extra £50 a month to pay your council tax arrears.

"It's so important to give them that ongoing support. But we've lost a few of our guys over the last couple of years, which is heartbreaking."

The council's Housing Options service is one of the busiest in the country, taking more than 6,000 applications every year.

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The service offers free housing advice to anyone who needs it, as well as carrying out around 5,000 additional needs assessments per year for those who are housed but have unmet housing needs.

A council spokesperson said the service successfully finds housing for 88 per cent of all households accepted as facing homelessness.

They added: "Temporary accommodation is available for those who require it with no one ever needing to sleep rough in Leeds.

"As a direct result of the extensive prevention work undertaken by the service and key partners, the numbers in temporary accommodation remain exceptionally low at around 60.

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"This is very significantly lower than that of comparable cities in the UK, creating a significant saving for the local authority which is invested back into helping to prevent homelessness.

“The team have worked tirelessly during the pandemic to ensure that the service remains accessible to everyone who needs it and despite the very challenging context have managed to ensure that the same high level of service has operated.

"We encourage anyone who is in housing need, homeless or threatened with homelessness to make contact with us as soon as possible via e-mail or for those who are at imminent risk of homelessness by calling 0113 222 4412."

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