How the floods made it worse to be homeless in Carlisle

The floods made things even worse for homeless people in Carlisle. Credit: ITV Border

Report by ITV Border's Hannah McNulty.

Many people are continuing the long process of recovery, after flooding swept through Cumbria and the south of Scotland.

I've been investigating how the awful events of December 2015 affected some of the region's most vulnerable people: the homeless.

  • Carlisle's dark secret

On a summer evening, with the noise of busy bars in the background, Carlisle seems like a bustling, affluent, modern city.

But within earshot of those revellers, Dale leads us to the place he calls home - the clearing beneath an old railway arch in the city.

Dale and his dog at the place they call home. Credit: ITV Border

We follow him in, to find beds, broken chairs and food and drink wrappers: signs that other people stay here too.

Dale was staying at the John Street Hostel, until it flooded in December.

He'd been there since he was released from jail and has been trying to beat a drug addiction.

Efforts to re-house him have been unsuccessful and he has been sleeping rough off and on for months.

All I want is a roof over my head, a flat or a house. A two-bedroomed house or two-bedroomed flat or something. I want to get back to normal, get back to work, but you can't do that with being homeless. >

The John Street Hostel was gutted by the floods. Credit: ITV Border

Dale was one of 21 residents in the male-only John Street Hostel in Caldewgate.

Flood damage has affected the entire ground floor, and it is not set to re-open until early next year.

It's run by Carlisle City Council, which is responsible for providing a bed for homeless people in the short-term.

The idea is for them to get back on their feet and move on to supported living or private rentals.

The Council says it has tried to assist everyone affected by the closure, and has fulfilled its legal obligations.

All the individuals were assisted within two days to find alternative accommodation by talking to our partners within the homelessness sector, and all those who wanted the help were given help. >

Cllr Heather Bradley, Economy Enterprise and Housing, Carlisle City Council

When I asked why it was taking so long to re-open the hostel, I was told discussions with the insurance company were still ongoing, and loss adjustors needed to inspect the damage.

Like any other flooded building, it takes a tremendous amount of work to get it back open.

But that means bed space is now at a premium across the city, and many of those beds are now taken up by other flood victims.

Charities are often left to help those who slip through the cracks. Credit: ITV Border

The danger is that losing a facility like the hostel breaks the routines of homeless people, and sets them back from finding more permanent places to live.

Helping them to get back on their feet often then falls to charities.

Carlisle Key has helped some of the under 25s who were in the hostel.

It says everyone is working as hard as they can, but the lack of bed space means some people are having a longer period of homelessness than they would have otherwise.

It's the most vulnerable that have been impacted, not directly from the floods, but indirectly from the floods. Everybody who was flooded had to go into rented accommodation and now there isn't any rented accommodation for the young people and there isn't any accommodation for people on housing benefit, it's very limited.

Clare Brockie, Carlisle Key
'Hidden homelessness' is also a problem in the city. Credit: ITV Border
  • The hidden homeless

While people are sleeping rough in Carlisle, there is arguably an even bigger hidden problem.

Many people do have a roof over their heads, but are sleeping on sofas.

David can't work because of a heart problem, and found himself in the John Street Hostel after being evicted from his previous home for breaching a no alcohol policy.

Since being flooded out, he's not been able to secure alternative accommodation, though the City Council says it has tried to help him.

He's currently staying in his son's living room, and told me he's determined to get his own home, because it's "degrading" sleeping on his son's sofa.

You expect to be able to look after your own children and I can't even look after myself, never mind my own children.


Perhaps more people getting back into their homes will help people like David and Dale.

But one thing is clear - those with the least can be the ones who end up losing the most.

  • Help and advice for people affected by homelessness

If you or someone you know is affected by the issues in my report, advice can be found at the following websites.