Amid all the media coverage about the flooding we shouldn’t forget a young woman was tragically killed by a falling tree in Exeter during Saturday’s storms.
Details are still emerging, but it seems the 21 year old was sheltering in a tent with some other homeless people on Western Way, close to the city centre. Those who survived are still being treated for their injuries. Until we know more about the dead woman’s circumstances and how she came to be sleeping in a tent in such atrocious conditions we need to be careful about drawing conclusions. But here are some facts about homelessness in Exeter and the impact that recent changes in Government policy have had on it.
Last year the Government cut the amount of money it gave Devon County Council to prevent and combat homelessness by 12%. More importantly, the Government removed what is called the “ring fence”, meaning that the remaining reduced funding no longer had to be spent tackling homelessness, but the county council could spend the money as it wished. Conservative run Devon decided to cut funding by a whopping 44%. Spending of £6.2 million in 2010/11 was reduced to £3.5 million in 2011/12. In Exeter alone we lost 204 so called “supported bed” spaces. These are places where homeless people find refuge and the support they need to get themselves together and move on to permanent more independent accommodation. The cuts affected around 20 organisations in Exeter including the YMCA, Gabriel House, the Bridge Project and Mortimer House. At the time, Exeter City Council said: “We have significant concerns about the likely impacts which the changes to the County Council’s funding for housing related support will have on vulnerable people in the city. These concerns have already been expressed directly to Devon County Council; the Adult Safeguarding Board; senior DCLG officials and to Grant Shapps the Housing Minister.”