Jim Parker: 'No room at the inn' as finding a roof over your head in 2021 becomes growing crisis

Joseph Bulmer

I attended a meeting the other day where a startling statistic about Torbay whacked me between the eye-balls.

Did you know that around one in four children in the Bay are living in poverty? The dictionary meaning of poverty is 'the state of being extremely poor'.

Poverty. Extremely poor. In 2021 on the English Riviera. As I say, startling.

Moves are afoot to address the issue and make our resort child friendly and more on that later.

But this got me thinking of another growing problem in the resort at the moment - homelessness and those waiting or looking for a roof over their head.

Several factors are creating the 'perfect storm' as people are evicted through no fault of their own and the rented property market shrinks.

1,400 households are currently on the council housing waiting list. 120 are in temporary accommodation which has dropped recently from 149.

Council leader Steve Darling gives an example of how bad things are when he reveals: "There was a homeless household that we had to place in Glastonbury because there was nothing suitable for them locally."

He adds: "With a recent fire there were a number of families who became homeless. Four of them needed help from the council. We had to place three outside Torbay which puts things into perspective. There was no room at the inn.

“I know that the government is reaching out asking if we can help Afghan refugees. It is a head and heart situation. The heart says we want to be helping these people facing a desperate situation but we have our own perfect storm."

He says council leaders have spoken to Shelter about how they can campaign together and raise the issue with the housing ministry.

“A charity for the disabled which gives housing advice is concerned by the number of families about to be evicted," says Cllr Darling.

"There is a fear that the crisis is going to get worse. The advice is that that there is a bigger challenge coming down the line.

“We did have a ban on people being evicted over the pandemic period but that is coming to an end.

“We have more and more landlords turning their properties into Air B&B and we have more and more people moving down here.

“Some landlords say they have also had enough of all the regulations and government red tape as may just cash in.  It is too much hassle.” That affects the number of rented properties available.

People helped by the Leonard Stocks hostel in Torquay are being hit as well. For some who are ready to move on and into properties there is a problem with finding accommodation which has led to ‘bed blocking' back at the centre.

Cllr Darling reveals: “We are having to use hotels and B&Bs." Well-known branded chain hotels are among those used. “It is a very costly operation," he says.

Swithin Long, the councillor for housing, says has known of a rented property becoming available which had 50 people going for it  at the same time.

“People are being evicted for the property to be used for Air B&B and people are having to be housed outside the area away from local connections, " he says.

Community services councillor Christine Carter added: “The government is saying we should house all people but we are struggling with our own. You also have lots of bedsits. Standards are not great. We want less bedsits.”

The council has set up a homes building company - Torvista - but going through government processes is like plodding through treacle with army boots on. Housing projects like Tweenaway Cross off the Ring Road at Paignton, St Kildas in Brixham and the Crossways scheme in Paignton town centre are all awaited with  baited breath.

Tweenaway, and the conversion of houses which have stood derelict for an age into flats, may still be the first to get over the line. But I understand there may even be a last-minute hiccup with that project so watch this space

Poverty and the local housing/homeless crisis can only be tackled in a thriving Bay where regeneration projects have to bring better-paid jobs, more money and a happy and healthier future for all residents of the Bay.