25% of people accepted as homeless by Northumberland County Council are aged 18-25 years
11% of Northumberland households experience fuel poverty
9 wards in Northumberland are ranked amongst the worst 20% in England for the quality of housing and availability of central heating

Young people at risk of homelessness should be a priority for community philanthropy

Housing affordability – the cost of buying a new home relative to average earnings – is better than the national average in Northumberland. Perhaps unsurprisingly, around 66% of residents are owner-occupiers, with social landlords accounting for a further 19% and the private rented sector around 13%. Housing stock across all areas is increasing, but at a slower rate than elsewhere and there is considerable pressure on social housing. This has been a major factor fuelling an increase in private sector renting. As one might expect in a tourist area, Northumberland includes a relatively high number of houses in use as second homes or holiday lets.

Around 38% of owner occupiers are retired, and a further 5% are have life limiting conditions or are carers. This suggests that there may be particular pressure on certain types of housing stock, and perhaps too issues around the maintenance and heating of dwellings. Deprivation data suggests that some housing in the county, particularly in rural areas, falls substantially below an acceptable standard with fuel poverty in off-mains areas likely to compound the problem.

Dealing with homelessness in Northumberland presents particular challenges, and whilst the Local Authority appears to have made significant progress in addressing the problem much remains to be done. In part this is about tackling the causes of homelessness, in particular domestic violence which accounts for 25% of all acceptances by the Local Authority and the loss of private sector tenancies which has increased substantially since 2013 partly as a result of changes to the benefits system. A particular concern is homelessness amongst the young, who have been affected by both welfare reforms and a significant reduction in specialist housing services. As elsewhere, those not officially recorded as homeless are at risk of having their needs overlooked.

Vital giving

vs2016-wle-1 img-responsiveA large grant made by the Henry Smith Charity through the Community Foundation is helping people with learning disabilities to live full and enriching lives. Funding has secured the post of a Service Manager and a Financial Administrator for three years at Natural Ability, a charity that helps people with learning disabilities to live in their own home and play a meaningful role within the local rural community and economy. With funding secured for three years, Natural Ability can focus on its commitment to young people who live in isolation and require a high level of support.

  • Vital issues

  • 1. Services that support those in housing need are many and varied, including for example the provision of housing and debt advice; support with the family problems that can lead to young people becoming homeless; practical help for older and disabled people to maintain independent living at home and the simple chance to spend time away from home in a warm and comfortable community centre. Here relatively small grants can have a huge impact on individual’s lives.
  • 2. Getting upstream of the homelessness problem is an area where the community and voluntary sector can make a real difference, for example by supporting those at risk of homelessness such as women in abusive relationships, families in debt and young people at risk. Philanthropic funding remains a crucial part of the funding mix for such services.

Vital Grants

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Bell View in Belford received a Surviving Winter grant to help older men learn how to cook in low-cost low-energy way.  Sir Nigel Sherlock KCVO OBE, a patron of the Community Foundation, explains why he recycled his winter fuel payment by donating it to the campaign:

Sir Nigel Sherlock KCVO OBE said:

“For some people in our region they have to make a choice of whether to heat their homes or whether to eat. This is something which must be tackled at a community level, and the voluntary sector works hard to find, and then to help those most at need. The winter fuel payment is a lifeline for many people but I would urge those who do not need it to recycle this payment and help local charities help people who do need that bit of extra support.”

  • Talking point: Where can philanthropy be most effective in supporting the third sector’s contribution to tackling homelessness, particularly for young people?
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