Controversial planned cuts to Devon’s homelessness budget should be delayed, an influential group of councillors has recommended.
The county council has consulted on proposals to scrap its £1.5 million contribution to projects which prevent people from becoming homeless but insists no decision will be taken until next month.
However, the cabinet member responsible, Councillor James McInnes (Conservative, Hatherleigh & Chagford), recently said it was “money we can’t afford,” adding he was “very clear” it would not come out of existing budgets for the council’s statutory services.
A draft cabinet report presented to a health and adult care scrutiny committee this week revealed the funding could be cut at the end of September, but members of the committee decided this is too soon.
A majority instead urged the cabinet to delay the cuts until at least the end of the financial year in April, but another proposal to keep the funding until the end of the 2024/2025 financial year was rejected.
The £1.5 million currently pays for contracts with five providers who support around 250 people at any one time.
Their services are provided in multiple occupancy hostels in Exeter, East Devon, Torridge and North Devon, as well as through a countywide support service. None of the money pays for accommodation.
Local charities have hit out at the proposed cuts. YMCA Exeter, which receives £150,000 from the council, says “the consequences for vulnerable young adults will be huge,” while St Petrock’s, a charity in Exeter, warned it could lead to a “homelessness crisis.”
They believe it will end up costing other services such as district councils, the police, NHS and social care “significantly more” in the medium to long term, while Cllr McInnes has admitted there is a “risk that hostels may close.”
The meeting heard from one woman who said that, without receiving support from living at the Gabriel House shelter, she 'most likely would not be here today'.
“I have significant traumas in my life,” she added.
"This has led to me suffering the loss of my daughter and a breakdown of any relationship with my family.
“I’m now only able to share my story with you in the hope you can listen to me on why the proposal to stop the funding would have such a devastating impact on every resident at Gabriel House, who I see as my family.”
Peter Stephenson, chief executive of St Petrock’s, said the council’s claim that the funding is not part of its statutory powers is “dubious at best.”
He added: “Going ahead with this proposal will not only contravene your legal duties but will make it abundantly clear that Devon County Council considers people experiencing homelessness as unworthy of the protection the rest of society rightly receives.”
Another charity, YMCA Exeter, has said it will take legal action if Devon goes ahead with the cuts.
In a statement, Cllr McInnes, who’s also the council deputy leader, said: “We fully understand that homelessness is a blight on people’s lives, particularly among younger people and others who need support, and that this is a real issue for all local authorities, locally and nationally.
“No decision has yet been made, and we are continuing to engage with district councils to explore all the inter-dependencies between housing and social care, particularly for our care leavers and other young people.”
The cabinet is expected to reach its decision on Wednesday 23 August.