YEOVIL: Council grants nearly £400k towards new homeless facility
A Somerset council has granted nearly £400,000 to secure new emergency accommodation for homeless people on the outskirts of Yeovil.
South Somerset District Council currently contracts the Bournemouth Churches Housing Association (BCHA) to provide emergency accommodation in Yeovil to homeless single people from across the district.
The existing Pathways facility on Newton Road near the town centre, which can house up to 30 people, is “no longer fit for purpose” and urgently needs replacing with a new facility more suited to contemporary needs.
The council has agreed to give BCHA a total of £390,000 to help fund the purchase and refurbishment of a new base, with Homes England putting up the remainder of the funding needed.
The grant was confirmed at a meeting of the council’s district executive committee on Thursday morning (June 3).
Alice Knight, the council’s housing support officer, said in her written report: “It is widely agreed the current property and location are no longer suitable for emergency accommodation, and BCHA have been looking for alternative premises more suited to customers, support staff, local support agencies and the wider community.
“The covid pandemic has accelerated the recognition of the need to identify alternative provision.”
The BCHA previously put forward proposals to refurbish the Pathways facility at a cost in excess of £5M – a scheme which Homes England initially supported.
However, the pandemic delayed progress on this scheme, with new information coming forward about the building’s “structural problems”.
New government guidance emphasises the need for “self-contained units with bathrooms and kitchenettes”, along the lines of the YMCA’s refurbishment of the Gascony Hotel in Minehead – something which cannot be done with the Pathways venue.
Ms Knight added: “The more proactive type of support which we wish to provide for our customers is not possible in the building due to the lack of communal, private or outdoor space, and there is little scope for improvement given the inherent restrictions of the site.
“The current poor state of the building and décor also makes attracting and retaining staff more difficult, and limits the ability and willingness of other services to provide on-site, which is a much more effective delivery model for many of the customers accessing emergency accommodation.”
The council has not specified where the new facility would be located, stating only that it is “on the edge of Yeovil” and is “a large, purpose-built and contemporary care-based facility”.
The new facility will provide 39 en-suite rooms with the option to install kitchenettes, and can also provide communal space for group work and leisure activities.
The bulk of the funding for this new facility is expected to come from Homes England, with the council stating it will be “greatly reduced” compared to the £5M cost of refurbishing Pathways.
Leigh Rampton, the council’s lead specialist for communities, said the new facility would help the authority to deal with the impact of the government’s eviction ban ending.
He said: “The current accommodation is no longer fit for purpose. We need to move on and develop better offers for our homeless customers.
“Potentially up to 2,000 households are at risk of losing their accommodation. Half of those would be in social housing, 600 to 700 would be in private accommodation and 200 to 300 would be mortgagees.
“But that’s the worst case scenario – it’s based on very high unemployment, very high numbers of people on universal credit and the rest of it.
“It won’t be that bad, but we simply don’t know at this stage. The end of the ban is being eased in over the next four months, so it won’t be a cliff-edge, and we are putting stuff in place.”
Kirsty Larkins, the council’s director for service delivery, said the new site would accommodate both men and women, and work was being done to ensure pets could also be accommodated – something which was welcomed by council leader Val Keitch.
She said: “I remember going to Fair View and there was a lady there that we had rehoused – and luckily she had friends who were looking after her two dogs.
“Trying to then find her permanent accommodation where she could take her pets – because she was at an age where she was only going to be offered elderly person’s accommodation, it was actually really difficult.
“When people are on their own and they’re older, pets are their lifeline. Hopefully we can do something about that.”
Words: Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter
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