The CEO of a Buckinghamshire-based homelessness charity has blamed 'unaffordable' rent prices and a freeze on housing benefits for a 'rapid' increase in the number of rough sleepers in the county.

Data released this week by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities revealed that the number of people in Buckinghamshire in need of help to stop or prevent homelessness in the county had significantly risen from 1,745 to 2,411 this year.

James Boultbee, CEO of the charity Wycombe Homeless Connection, warned that the ongoing cost-of-living crisis was "turning into a homelessness crisis", with the number of residents in High Wycombe who can no longer afford to keep a roof over their heads "rapidly" on the rise.

Wycombe Homeless Connection relies on funds from local people to tackle homelessness at its root causes wherever possible and helps those who do become homeless to gain access to food, clothing and emergency accommodation.

Mr Boultbee said he believed the central reason behind the rise in rough sleepers across the county was the freeze on housing benefits that has been in place since 2020, leaving people who cannot afford increasing rent prices in a precarious position.

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"In April 2023, Rightmove identified High Wycombe as having had the largest annual increase in average rent levels - rising by nearly £300 in one year.

"Almost all the rents in our area are now totally unaffordable to anyone who is claiming benefits, which can be for a variety of reasons including unemployment, caring responsibilities and illnesses, among others."

He added that the problem would only be fixed if housing benefit rates began to rise in line with rents and stressed that the epidemic was not just bad news for those left on the streets but for the country's wider finances as well.

"Allowing more people to become homeless by keeping housing benefits frozen will not save money.

"The charity Crisis has shown that it costs the local economy around £20,000 for a single person to sleep rough for a year, alongside the very significant human costs.

"No one should be sleeping out on our streets."

Councillor Mark Winn, Buckinghamshire Council’s Cabinet Member for Homelessness and Regulatory Services said: “Sadly, we’ve seen a significant increase since the Covid pandemic in the number of people approaching us for help and advice because they feel at risk of homelessness. This is a picture we’re seeing across the whole of the country.

"High rents and house prices coupled with cost of living pressures are significant contributors to this issue, as is a shortage of affordable housing, which we are working hard to address here in Buckinghamshire.

"Our housing team, alongside our partners, is working very hard to help anyone at risk of homelessness. Often our support and intervention help to prevent a lot of people from becoming homeless. 

"I would urge anyone who is worried that they are at risk of homelessness or who currently has nowhere to live, to get in touch by using the contact details on our website or by calling 01296 585 168.”