Planned cuts to homeless prevention services in Devon have been criticised by senior opposition councillors.
Devon County Council is consulting on proposals to stop funding adult homelessness services across the county, saving around £1.5 million per year.
It says it can no longer afford to pay for the services, with the money instead going towards increasing spending in other areas that support vulnerable children, young people and adults.
But local charities have urged it to think again.
YMCA Exeter, which receives £150,000 in support from the council, said “the consequences for vulnerable young adults will be huge,” while St Petrock’s warned it could lead to a “homelessness crisis” in the city.
The proposals come as new figures reveal the estimated number of rough sleepers in Devon increased by 28 per cent last year to 113.
Opposition leader of the council, Julian Brazil (Lib Dem, Kingsbridge), said: “It’s extremely worrying, but we all knew it was the case.
“Despite all the positive messages around the budget, we knew it was absolutely appalling and we’re struggling to find these cuts somewhere.”
But he added he had “some sympathy” with the council and expressed his frustration at the county’s Conservative MPs, who he claims have failed to secure more money for Devon.
“The truth is, if we don’t get the proper funding from central government, we’re never going to be able to provide these services.
“And they put as much spin as they like on it, but in the end these are cuts to the most vulnerable people in Devon and it breaks my heart to think we’re having to do that.”
Speaking to Devoncast from Radio Exe, Independent councillor Jess Bailey (Otter Valley) said she was “very concerned” about the proposals.
“I think it’s the worst possible time and, as a member of the [county council’s] health and adult care scrutiny committee, I will be looking very closely at these proposals. I’m strongly opposed to them and I think it’s removing funding from our most vulnerable residents.
“I’m very disappointed that the county council cannot apparently find the money for our most vulnerable residents and I think, in terms of health inequality, we need to find a way of supporting these people and continuing with that funding.”
Outlining the potential impacts of its loss in funding last week, YMCA Exeter warned that over 100 young adults a year could continue to face homelessness and “no longer have access to tailored wellbeing support, unable to move beyond their circumstances and thrive again.”
“Without the essential prevention measures YMCA Exeter provides,” it said, “Devon County Council could find themselves covering an average bill of over £924,000 a year in adult social care costs, rather than the current £157,000 they give to YMCA Exeter.”
The council estimates the cuts could save around £1.5 million per year. (Image: Terry Ife)
Meanwhile, Peter Stephenson, St Petrock’s director said the proposals are “disastrous for people at risk of homelessness in Exeter and across Devon, who are some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
“Long-standing and desperately needed support is set to disappear, removing a life-line people desperately need to avoid becoming homeless.”
A spokesperson for Devon County Council said: “We’ve budgeted this year to significantly increase spending in services that support vulnerable children, young people and adults, to meet rapidly growing demand for those services.
“To prioritise spending on our statutory responsibilities, we have to make savings in the region of £45 million from elsewhere and get the best possible outcomes from every single penny we spend.
“While we’ve been able to help fund this support service in the past, even though it falls outside our statutory adult social care responsibilities, sadly, we can no longer afford to do so.
“Reluctantly, we are therefore proposing to stop our contributions to this contract and instead target our scarce resources to support growing numbers of vulnerable adults who are eligible for social care support.”
The spokesperson added: “We will not make a decision regarding this proposal until we’ve considered the consultation responses, and we encourage people in the meantime to let us know what they think.”
The public consultation is open until Wednesday, April 19.