The number of homeless applying for housing is down this year thanks to “preventive work” done by the housing service, according to housing chief Anita Jamieson.
Speaking at a meeting of the social services committee this week, Ms Jamieson said the number of homeless in the 16 to 25 age range had always been high but had recently dropped.
In 2011/12 there were 27 people seeking help in this age group, whereas in 2013/14 this had dropped to six.
This appears to be due to the “crucial” support of the Family Mediation Service and the Shetland Befriending Scheme, which help applicants to manage their lifestyle and develop the “skills” needed to stay in their current home or sustain a tenancy.
However there are still high numbers of people in the 26 to 59 age group experiencing homelessness – more than 80 in 2013/14. Ms Jamieson said this was often due to relationship breakdown, with the male partner usually the one looking for accommodation.
This, she said, is “one of our biggest challenges”. Applicants are often referred to other agencies.
In the first quarter of this year, the housing service had a total of 30 homeless applications from people of all ages.
Meanwhile the average length of time applicants spend in temporary accommodation has increased. It was 243 days in 2011/12, but nearly doubled to 438 days in 2013/14.
Ms Jamieson said this was due to the government’s abolition of “priority need” when assessing homeless applicants. Now the housing service has a statutory duty to a greater number of applicants.
She said private rented accommodation is no longer the option it once was, due to the high number of people now working and renting in the isles. And, she said, there are cases of tenants being asked to leave so that landlords can get more lucrative business lets.
Ms Jamieson said: “The demand for the private rented sector is at an absolute peak, worse than ever both in terms of cost and accessibility.”
This has forced the housing service to use B&B, which last year cost the council £50,404. Ms Jamieson said this is likely to increase this year as the service has to take whatever is available, at whatever cost.
Ms Jamieson was keen to quash the myth that people can arrive in Shetland, present as homeless and be housed. In five years only four such applicants, who may have had good reason for coming to Shetland, had been allocated houses.