“Good people pay their rent, these sort of people have their rent paid for them” says Lead Councillor
A warning has been sounded that Wrexham Council could face a judicial review unless it tackles the growing number of homeless people in the area.
The amount of individuals presenting as homeless to the local authority has increased significantly since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report presented to councillors this week.
A total of 505 people have sought assistance since national lockdown measures were first introduced in March, around a fifth of whom had recently been released from prison.
Officers have drawn up a range of plans to address the issue, including the creation of a homeless hub to replace the town’s existing Tŷ Nos night shelter.
The authority has also recently bought a former bed and breakfast establishment on Chester Road to use as emergency accommodation.
However, during a meeting of its homes and environment scrutiny committee, some councillors raised objections to having homeless people with addiction issues housed within council properties in their communities.
They included lead member for economy Cllr Terry Evans, who said: “Good people pay their rent, these sort of people have their rent paid for them,” in an apparent dig at people in receipt of housing benefits.
It led to a senior officer advising them that action could be taken against the council unless it fulfils its legal obligation to homeless people after revealing some had been in temporary accommodation for more than three years.
Speaking at Wednesday’s meeting, chief housing officer Steve Bayley said: “The biggest problem that we face in my opinion is those hundreds of people who are homeless who are in temporary accommodation and are perfectly capable of managing a tenancy but have to sit there for three years plus.
“If we don’t move those people on and they continue to bed block, I’m telling you now that I’ll be coming back to you saying we’re going to have to put more (people with) complex needs in our voids across the county borough or we will face a judicial review.
“It’s really important that we grasp this, we do something about the three years, we do enable those people who are tenancy ready to move on into permanent accommodation and we deal with the complex needs through the triage process.
“That’s a balancing act and I accept that. Some of them will slip through the net and I absolutely accept that, but the majority will be managed properly through the department and with your support.”
He added: “We’ve got a grip of this otherwise we will face judicial review and that’s not a place we want to be as an authority.
“As an officer, I can’t just sit here and let you talk about it without pointing out the seriousness of the circumstances you face if we don’t address it.”
His comments came after Cllr Evans, who represents part of Chirk, made a number of remarks about homeless people who had been housed in his area.
It included a reference to one man with addiction issues who was jailed after causing £15,000 worth of damage to the Co-op store on Holyhead Road in the town.
Speaking earlier in the meeting, the independent councillor said: “We’ve had these people off the streets of Wrexham that have major drug problems and plonked them in a flat in a good street of residents.
“We’re being told here today that they’re tenant ready before they receive a property.
“All day and all night they walk about the community looking for something to steal.
“One person did thousands of pounds worth of damage to the Co-op, where he had a prison sentence but was then released back into the community.
“We’ve had more than our fair share in our community.”
The head of the council’s housing service, Julie Francis, also highlighted that it had a legal duty to house homeless people.
She said other public bodies, including the police, needed to play their part in addressing criminal issues.
She said: “We have some difficult characters in society who commit crime and do things in their community they shouldn’t be doing.
“Without pointing criticism at any other agencies, that is the responsibility of everybody.
“It’s the responsibility of police, it’s the responsibility of social services, mental health services, probation services and drug and alcohol service.
“It’s not a housing issue and tenancy ready means they could be paying their rent and their house could be clean and I have no other redress to take the house from them.”
In response, Cllr Evans said: “You say that they’re paying their rent – good people pay their rent; these sort of people have their rent paid for them.”
Councillors voted to support the approach being taken to help homeless people in Wrexham at the end of the debate.
They also called for all public bodies to work together to address the issues faced.
By Liam Randall LDRS
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