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US News Tom still can't get a home despite £10k fundraising campaign

11:05  27 february  2020
11:05  27 february  2020 Source:   news.sky.com

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£ 10 k raised and still homeless. Image: Sky's Nick Martin met Tom during the 2019 election campaign , prompting thousands of pounds of donations. When we met, he opened his backpack and showed me the incontinence pads he carries around which he uses when he cannot get to a toilet.

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Three months ago I met a disabled man called Tom Allen.

Tom was born with an underdeveloped spine which has given him a life of pain in his back and left leg.

a man smiling for the camera: Tom Allen has spina bifida and is struggling to get housing despite £10,000 being donated to help him © Sky News Screen Grab Tom Allen has spina bifida and is struggling to get housing despite £10,000 being donated to help him The condition - spina bifida - also means Tom cannot control when he needs to go to the toilet.

When we met, he opened his backpack and showed me the incontinence pads he carries around which he uses when he cannot get to a toilet.

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Tom's story was a shocking one because, at the age of 27, he was homeless and living on the streets of Weston-super-Mare.

a man and a woman standing in front of a building: Sky's Nick Martin met Tom during the 2019 election campaign, prompting thousands of pounds of donations © Sky News Screen Grab Sky's Nick Martin met Tom during the 2019 election campaign, prompting thousands of pounds of donations

He is one of around 380,000 people who have no permanent home and are living in hostels, squats or with friends so-called "sofa surfing".

Because of his condition, Tom was told he could not have a bed for the night in the local night shelter and the night we met he was left to bed down in a soaking wet sleeping bag in the doorway of a shop on the high street.

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When he turned up at the offices of North Somerset Council to make an appointment to see a housing officer he said he was told to "get out" because he had accidentally soiled a chair in the waiting room on a previous visit.

Within a few hours of appearing on Sky News, a crowdfunding page had been set up by a lady called Ruth. She had never met Tom in her life and lived 200 miles away in West Yorkshire, but had watched Sky News and wanted to help.

a person standing in front of a building: Tom lives on the streets in Weston-super-Mare © Sky News Screen Grab Tom lives on the streets in Weston-super-Mare

Another funding page was set up by a man called Andy Mitchell in Bristol. Andy had never met Tom either but was moved into trying to help too.

Two weeks later, the two funds had raised more than £10,000.

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This was a life-changing moment for a desperate homeless man. The focus of attention was on him, money was available to get some proper care and the agencies around him could surely now spring into action.

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But fundraiser Andy Mitchell said he hit a wall from the start.

a man wearing glasses: Andy Mitchell helped fundraise for Tom © Sky News Screen Grab Andy Mitchell helped fundraise for Tom He said: "Initially we didn't think we were going to raise very much money. We thought we'd raise a few hundred pounds and we'd give it to a charity that could then help Tom. And that would be it."

But when Andy contacted the local charities, none would talk to him about Tom's needs.

They said it was due to "data protection", even though Tom said he was more than happy for people to help him on his behalf.

The money raised is being held in the crowdfunding accounts for now until a long-term solution can be found for Tom, Andy said.

Fundraisers added they were looking into setting up a trust fund so that when the time comes to allocate the money it can be released.

North Somerset Council said they could not engage with Andy because of "data protection" and Andy said he tried to speak to the social services department, but they could not help either.

a person standing in front of a window: Val Donagen has been trying to help Tom get accommodation © Sky News Screen Grab Val Donagen has been trying to help Tom get accommodation

He said: "Wherever we went, we met a wall. And so we haven't been able to offer him the support that we wanted.

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"And for us, that's extremely frustrating. It's upsetting. From my point of view, I feel like I've let down Tom and I've also let the people who donated the money too."

During this period, Tom admits that he missed two appointments with the council which he accepts responsibility for. On both occasions he said he was staying on a friend's sofa five miles away and could not get into town because he had no money.

This week I returned to Weston-super-Mare to track Tom down. For a few hours he was nowhere to be seen. But I eventually found him on the high street. Back sleeping rough. Back to square one.

He said: "I was staying on a friend's sofa for a while. I lost my phone and I didn't have any way of getting into town.

"I wasn't sure if I was able to go back to the council because they had told me I had to leave last time. I guess the whole thing was a bit overwhelming.

"It's a shock to be back on the streets and I need help to try to sort this out."

Tom's story is a stark example of how there are no quick fixes when it comes to helping the homeless.

The council says the responsibility is on a homeless person to engage with the services around them not the other way around and said it was "not appropriate" to comment on why he was turned away from the council offices.

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Don Davies, leader of North Somerset Council, told Sky News: "Ultimately it's down to the individual to decide if they wish to be assisted. I haven't got a large pot of free cash, as I'm sure other council leaders will tell you the same.

"Clearly we are dealing with people who are very vulnerable but equally we can't be dictating how they live their lives."

For Mr Davies, there are bigger issues at play.

"We as a country have just not built enough houses at all over the last 25 years," he said.

"The numbers in North Somerset are as pitifully low as they are in most of the parts of the country in relation to the need we have.

"North Somerset can't build council houses, we have to get a housing association to do that so we are limited in terms of how we can deliver the accommodation on the ground.

"We're waiting for a budget and a longer term review from central government and I think it's this lack of certainty that makes it most difficult."

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Historically, homeless people in England have only been able to get help if their local council thought they were a "priority". This was mostly families with children.

For years this has meant that many people without children have been turned away by councils. Some have had to sleep rough, like Tom.

The Homelessness Reduction Act was passed by parliament in 2017 and means all homeless people will be able to get help from their council, ensuring that no one is turned away.

In addition, councils must try to prevent people becoming homeless in the first place, according to the act.

The official figures of the numbers of people rough sleeping in England are expected to show a reduction for 2019.

They come from a spot-count on a single night in autumn by council workers walking around towns trying to count the number of people sleeping rough.

In 2018, the total number of people counted or estimated to be sleeping rough on a single night was 4,677. This was down by 74 people, or 2%.

But this method of recording homelessness has its critics.

Helen Barnard, deputy director of policy and partnerships at national poverty charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: "It's unacceptable that anyone is rough sleeping or trapped in poor quality, insecure, temporary accommodation, sometimes for years.

"People are being pulled into homelessness because there are not enough social homes, private rented properties are often expensive, and housing benefit is no longer an anchor to help people cope in difficult times.

"The underlying causes are not being solved and more action needs to be taken to break the grip of homelessness."

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