The former Foyer building in Bridport has been earmarked for homeless hostel accommodation.

Dorset Council is planning to convert the building in West Allington into a 10-12 unit hostel.

The site, along with the Portland Youth Hostel Association building which will house up to 25 people, has been identified as being a relatively quick way of dealing with some of the recent rise in homelessness across the county, much of it brought about by the pandemic.

The Magna Housing Association-owned building will primarily be used as ‘move on’ accommodation for short-term stays.

It will initially be leased to Dorset Council and converted into self-contained units for single people.

Up to £130,000 has already been earmarked for the conversion to create 10-12 bed spaces, but another £100,000 is expected to be needed, which councillors approved at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

The council hopes, in time, to buy the freehold to reduce its ongoing revenue costs.

The move has been generally welcomed in Bridport, although councillors said they would like to see more detail.

Leader of Bridport Town Council David Rickard said: "Councillors have been concerned for some time, even before Covid, about the lack of a facility for homeless people. Of course the pandemic has made this situation worse.

"We don't have great numbers of regular homeless people in the Bridport area although there are those that are under the radar who are sofa surfing.

"I would say there is likely to be general approval. If the facility is there it will be able to help more people and make people aware of the issue."

Cllr Kelvin Clayton said it was a "cracking idea", but he said he would like to know more about how people in the hostel will be supported.

"The policy is good but I'd like to see the details," he said.

Growing problem

At the start of lockdown dozens of people who had been staying with friends or family on an informal basis were asked to leave, finding themselves homeless. Others have since found themselves without anywhere to live after losing their job, or taking a cut in pay.

Dorset Council says the pandemic doubled the amount of local households it put up in B&B accommodation. At the height of lockdown the council had 156 households in B&Bs, of which 147 were single people. The latest figure for early August showed 139 households, 127 of them single.

The cost of looking after them could amount to an estimated £1.6m over a year, £31,200 per week.

The authority has now bid for £1.2million of Government funding to help it deal with the growing problem and is planning to spend £4.78m over two years buying suitable properties.

An estimated 60-80 bed spaces are believed to be needed across the Dorset Council area.

In addition to the hostel spaces at Bridport and Portland the council is also hoping to buy individual properties at a number of locations to create another 20 to 40 bed spaces.

This alone has been costed at £2.45m, but could be paid for from a housing fund passed over to Dorset Council by the former West Dorset District Council.

Council has legal duty

Meeting legal obligations to local homeless people has been ‘a real challenge’ for Dorset Council.

Housing brief holder Graham Carr-Jones says that even before the pandemic the council was having to look after more than 70 households who were homeless.

“Getting families out of temporary bed and breakfast accommodation and getting them into settled accommodation has been a real challenge,” he told this week’s Cabinet meeting.

He said that many exceeded the maximum six week stay in B&B because of the lack of alternative options.

Cllr Carr-Jones said many private landlords did not want to take homeless people since the introduction of Universal Credit and the end of direct payments.

He said many of private landlords were unable to let to homeless people from the council list because their mortgage and insurance providers made it difficult for them to do so.

Cllr Carr-Jones said that although the council had a small number of homes it owned around the county and had persuaded some landlords to join its lettings scheme the demand constantly out-stripped supply and seemed likely to continue to do so.

“We have about 80 properties on our books – but it’s not just enough,” he said.

He said the council did not have a choice over housing homeless people – it has a legal duty to do so.

* Additional reporting by Martin Lea