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Maidstone & Malling’s No 1 - 88,000 copies - 4 editions Maidstone South Edition March 2012 No.179 Homeless rise as economy suffers

HOMELESSNESS in Maidstone has reached a worrying level, with the past 12 months showing a dramatic increase in those hav- ing nowhere to live. Since April 2011, 62% of people seeking housing advice at Maidstone Council's Gateway centre presented as homeless, compared with 24% the previous year. Domestic abuse and mortgage arrears

were cited among the biggest contributing factors in a report from the borough's head of housing services manager, Neil Coles. Maidstone Day Centre now has up to 40 people a day dropping in for food, showers and advice on how to get off the streets. Most are not the stereotypical “park bench” sleepers, with businessmen and professionals now numbering among those on the homeless register, as well as young people whose parents can no longer afford to keep them. Day centre manager Sue Tallowin said:

“Most of our clients do not look homeless and you would never guess. They don’t want to draw attention to themselves and they don’t want any trouble.” Increasing numbers of young people be- come “sofa-surfers” when they leave school

New children’s hub lacks consultation

and their parents can no longer claim bene- fits. “We hear the same stories time and time again – ‘my mum can’t afford to keep me’ is a recurring theme. There are also youngsters who leave home as a result of disputes with a step-parent. Someone else’s children aren’t quite so appealing when they become belligerent teenagers,” said Sue.

Most people who present as homeless are

local, but Maidstone also suffers from the occasional ex-convict released from jail with nowhere to go. “Their families don’t want to know them,

they have no money and they don’t know what to do. On paper, there might be a re- habilitation plan, but it doesn’t always hap- pen that way.” Sue and her staff regularly encounter strong, proud menwho break down in tears. She said: “They have always been the bread-winners, supporting their partners and families. When they come to us, they have lost their jobs, their homes and their self respect.” With housing benefit changes due to come

into effect in April, the council expects to see an increase in the number of tenantsmi-

grating from London to Kent and the day centre is bracing itself for even more heartache. Sue said: “We never turn anyone away –

but we can’t offer them overnight P4

MP: Problem getting worse RARELY a week goes by without someone appealing for help with housing to MP Helen Grant. The member for Maidstone andWeald said housing was one of the key issues constituents brought to her Albion Place surgeries. "The problem is ongoing and getting worse," she said. "There is simply not enough housing available." Overcrowding was a particular problem,

said theMP. "When you have a family of four sharing a one-bedroomed flat, difficulties are bound to arise.Young parents with young children find it exceptionally hard to cope and living in cramped conditions simply adds to the difficulties. You can see situations which youknowhave the potential to implode and you have to do everything you can to get them out."

Gypsy sites ‘will not

A NEW one-stop shop for children’s services in the Maidstone borough is about to launch in Coxheath – apparently after minimal con- sultation. From early April, children’s therapy serv-

ices, community paediatricians and the child and adolescent mental health services will move to the refurbished Heathside House in Heath Road, which used to be a dementia clinic. The services are currently provided in Pre-

ston Hall in Aylesford, Gatland House in Fant, Maidstone Hospital and Foster Street and Union Street, which are both in Maidstone town centre. The Kent Community Health NHS Trust insistsmany of these sites are out of date and do not offer modern facilities. It has been known for many years that Grade II-listed Preston Hall was to close – all serv- ices are due to be out by the end of March, a housing scheme for 318 dwellings was un- veiled last summer – but service users were not told that many of the services would be transferred to Coxheath, four miles south of town. Ailsa McMahon, manager of charity M4S Maidstone Special Needs Support Service,


stop’ illegal settlers PROVISION of permanent sites for gypsies and the travelling community will not put an end to sporadic settlement, Maid- stone councillors were told. The council has been awarded £1.3m to provide 15 public pitches by 2015 to meet government targets and is ask- ing landowners and parishes if they know of any suitable sites. However, Cllr TonyHarwood, LibDem spokesman for plan- ning, said the public should not expect the provision of


New bus message is clear A NEW bus route is now serving Staplehurst on Sundays, but it will only continue if the demand is there. Full story - page 19

Trust is formally warned

THE Independent health regulator has issued a formal warning to Maidstone and TunbridgeWells NHS Trust that itmust make immediate improvements.

The Care Quality Commission

(CQC) has delivered two warn- ing notices following an unan- nounced inspection at Pembury in January. Inspectors found that


Sport awards for Maidstone youth P3

BIG IN OAK Insurance blow to

flood risk homes THOUSANDS of homes in low- lying areas around Yalding could be blighted by forthcom- ing changes to household in- surance. Many homeowners already struggle to get insurance cover when they admit to being within the Environment Agency’s risk area for flooding – even though the government has an agreement with the in- surance industry that it will guarantee cover for homes in the event of a flood. The


Independent member to leave council P21

The Big Yellow Building, St Peters St, Maidstone 0800 652 0102

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