Homeless families ‘forced out’ of Camden by welfare reforms: ‘It’s social cleansing of the poor’

PUBLISHED: 11:45 11 June 2015 | UPDATED: 11:49 11 June 2015

Families are being evicted from Green Yard, in King's Cross, as Camden Council has called time on its Homeless Families Initiative with Origin Housing Association. Picture: Polly Hancock

Families are being evicted from Green Yard, in King's Cross, as Camden Council has called time on its Homeless Families Initiative with Origin Housing Association. Picture: Polly Hancock

Polly Hancock

A Ham&High investigation has found almost 40 homeless families are being forced out of Camden as a scheme to support them is “unaffordable” in the wake of welfare reforms. Homeless charity Shelter says the shocking trend is echoed across the capital.

‘Uprooting families is now the norm in London’

National homeless charity Shelter has warned uprooting homeless families is “now the norm in London”.

The benefits cap, introduced by the coalition government, froze housing payments at a maximum of £260 for a one-bedroom property and up to £417 for a four-bedroom house - far less than average rents in most inner London boroughs.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Uprooting homeless families and sending them away from their jobs, schools and support networks should only ever be a last resort, but shockingly it’s now the norm in London.

“Council budgets for temporary accommodation have been frozen since 2011 while London rents have kept on rising.

“Sky high London rents have put councils in the same position as many renters across the capital – struggling to find anywhere affordable for homeless families.

“Until we address the root causes of the housing shortage by building more genuinely affordable homes, councils must have enough money to pay for emergency rented accommodation so that families who become homeless aren’t forced miles away from all they know.”

Camden Council’s most recent data for July 2014 shows 322 households in the borough have been affected by the benefits cap, of these households 248 included children.

Cllr Theo Blackwell, cabinet member for finance, said: “These are challenges faced by all inner London councils at the moment. It’s a very worrying development and it shows that national solutions don’t take account of local problems.”

Almost 40 homeless families face being forced out of Camden as sweeping changes to the benefits system leads to the closure of a support scheme.

Camden Council has called time on its Homeless Families Initiative which has offered temporary accommodation to destitute families since 1989, an investigation by the Ham&High has found.

The council says reductions in housing benefit and other welfare changes “have made the scheme unaffordable” and 39 households have been issued with eviction notices.

But Camden has admitted that a lack of “affordable family-size accommodation” may result in the families being moved out of the borough – leading to accusations of social cleansing.

Some of the families affected have lived in their homes for up to a decade and say they have been “left in limbo” and unsure where they will end up.

One of those, father-of-four Salem Saad, is desperate for his children to remain at primary school in Hampstead – an impossibility if they are forced out of Camden.

The 40-year-old said: “Education is one of the most important things for kids. They are happy where they are and I don’t want to take them anywhere else.

“To move us from one place to another, and then to have to go through this again in a couple of years, that’s no good.”

The family had been homeless since 2010 and living in hostels or temporarily with friends and family before being offered a three-bedroom house in Green Yard, King’s Cross, in 2012 through the Homeless Families Initiative, which is run in conjunction with Origin Housing Association.

Mr Saad says his family has been placed under “considerable stress and anxiety” and he will be unable to continue his job as an administration worker in Hampstead if they are forced to leave the borough.

“The prospect of being re-housed again is a concern for my job,” he said.

“I should be the example to follow as a working force in the family and not on full benefits, a workless family.”

He has called for Camden to reverse its decision to terminate the Homeless Families Initiative, saying: “Clearly it is a social cleansing attitude toward the poor and vulnerable”.

Camden is working to re-house families in three phases before March 31, 2017.

A council spokeswoman said: “Reductions in the availability of housing benefit and other welfare changes have made this scheme unaffordable for the council to support.

“We will ensure that any offers made to families are suitable, and we will offer them whatever support they may need when relocating.

“Unfortunately, as for any family seeking temporary accommodation, we are unlikely to be able to identify affordable family-sized accommodation in Camden. We will do as much as possible to take the needs and circumstances of households into consideration and make reasonable offers of alternative accommodation.”

Tenants who are unwilling to leave their homes could be served with legal notices.

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