Hundreds of homes for vulnerable young people in West Sussex may have to close if ‘short-sighted’ cuts are given the go-ahead.
The Tory-led West Sussex County Council is considering ending housing support funding worth hundreds of thousands of pounds from April 2019.
Since the grants are discretionary the cabinet member responsible is set to look at starting a process which could lead to a number of contracts with charities being terminated.
The YMCA DownsLink Group (YMCA DLG), which provides supported housing services to homeless young people in Worthing, Crawley, Horsham and Burgess Hill, is one of the organisations that would lose out.
The charity warned that if the council ended all financial support it would lead to the closure of 206 homes for vulnerable young people in West Sussex.
Chas Walker, chief executive officer of the YMCA DownsLink Group, said: “This process has been appallingly thought through with no consultation or formal impact assessment by the county council.
“It lets down and puts at risk the most vulnerable in our communities, those they should be protecting.
“It is short sighted and will lead to greater public costs, with increased rough sleeping, higher unemployment and increased A&E attendance and hospital admissions.
“The charitable sector in West Sussex won’t take this lying down - we have a responsibility to protect and advocate for our service users.”
Of the young people the charity houses, 20 per cent have been in care, another 14 per cent were street homeless immediately before accessing our accommodation and 38 per cent have a diagnosed mental health problem.
These are some of the most vulnerable young people in the county as they have multiple and complex needs and are from chaotic and traumatic backgrounds.
Currently the organisation’s services successfully support 88 per cent of the young people it houses to move-on to independent housing and 80 per cent into employment, education or training.
Louise Goldsmith, leader of the county council, said: “Here in West Sussex we have a really good track record for taking care of our residents money and keeping our finances solid and that us held us in good stead over the years. “However now, even for us, the financial situation for local authorities is becoming so dire that we are having to take some really difficult decisions.
“The squeeze on local government is due to reducing funding from central government. Across the country populations continue to rise and demand on services continues to increase. We, like other parts of the country, have an aging population, people are living longer with more complex health conditions and needing more support. At the same time the complexity and vulnerability of the children we support continues to increase too. Without additional central financial support more and more difficult choices will continue to be needed in order for local government to deliver the services residents rely on.
“The stark reality is we simply do not have the money to continue delivering the services we currently deliver in the same way and to the same level. We have come to the point that we need to make some difficult and necessary choices and this is the first reluctant step in this budget process.
“Locally there is really good work happening and we are committed to working in creative, innovative ways including collaborative working with partners to do as much as we can to mitigate the impact of these decisions and in doing so limit the effect on residents.
“The publication of the forward plan is the first step in the democratic process for our savings programme. No decision has been taken, these decisions are really important to making sure we meet the financial challenges we face. In order to make these decisions there is a full and thorough decision making process to go through. For many of these decisions that will include formal consultation with those most affected.
“Any changes we make we will do with the full understanding of the impact that has and the support we need to put in place to make sure we mitigate the impact for all of our communities.”
But Labour county councillor Michael Jones said: ”Trying to abolish the entire homelessness support funding the county council provides is not only incredibly callous and despicable of this Tory leadership, it is also immensely short-sighted.
“The county council will end up having to pay the consequences later when these vulnerable people deteriorate and then require services that they are statutorily required to provide, so most of the savings are likely to be lost quite quickly.
“Anyone who has seen first-hand the dedication of the staff at these organisations trying to help people in this terrible situation turn their lives around, and go forward with a roof over their heads, would not doubt for a second the benefit to the community they provide. The price it costs is relatively small as opposed to the costs that will undoubtedly emerge if they aren’t there, particularly to the health service and the police.
“In the meantime, I fear these cuts will trigger an epidemic of homelessness. This is likely to mean rough sleeping in the town centres, public places and open spaces, street begging and all the anti-social behaviour that can unfortunately accompany it, in a way that people in West Sussex will simply never have seen the likes of before.
“Where else will people seek help if these places aren’t there?”
James Walsh, leader of the Lib Dem group at County Hall, added: “These cuts fly in the face of the council’s avowed policies of protecting the vulnerable in our communities, and are merely cynical cash saving measures, and have no place in a civilised and caring society.
“They are part of a much wider programme of cuts to make up the shortfalls caused by the drastic reduction in the cash given by central government for local council services. It is time for the public and the council to stand up and tell central government that austerity has gone too far, and is severely eroding local Services to the elderly, young people, and vulnerable in our communities.”
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