And the proportion of homeless women – now constituting between two and three in ten – has increased as the trust is about to open a new facility in St Helier, which will cater for 19 females and offer two family rooms.
An existing facility in St Mark’s Road for the 16 to 25 age-range provides accommodation for younger Islanders, some of whom are students. Many, Mr Benbow said, were unable to remain in the family home for a variety of reasons, or had emerged from care, and could not afford the cost of independent living.
Earlier this week, the JEP reported that over a third of residents at another organisation, the Sanctuary Trust, were in full-time employment, with Covid’s impact on access to services, and ballooning house and rental prices cited as key factors for their need of support.
Mr Benbow said that while numbers approaching the charity had fallen from a peak during last year’s lockdown, they showed no sign of returning to pre-Covid levels. Earlier this week, 101 of the 108 beds across their seven sites were full.
‘Homelessness always lags behind recessions and Covid has effectively been another recession. Whether Jersey is or isn’t technically in a recession isn’t something I can comment on but Covid has created recession-like conditions. Every time there was a change in government policy, in terms of available support, you’d then see an increase in the number of people who would be saying: “Look, I just can’t cope”.’
And Mr Benbow confirmed the emergence of a new group of potential clients from among those who, although in employment, found they could not afford the cost of renting or buying accommodation.
‘When a one-bedroom flat costs £300,000 to £330,000, how is that affordable for someone who is on a basic wage when our minimum wage in Jersey is lower now than in the UK?’ he asked, adding that the typical market rental was becoming ‘near-on impossible’ for many on the minimum wage.
At the height of the pandemic, the trust was forced to source additional accommodation to deal with the combination of rising numbers – partly the result of seasonal workers trapped in Jersey by lockdown – and the requirement to make all rooms in their main Kensington Place premises single-occupancy.
Although numbers have fallen from more than 125 last year, they remain higher than they were before the pandemic, prompting Mr Benbow to speculate about the future.
‘We’d like to see the numbers coming down but I can’t see it because the pressures are going to continue. What’s next? It could be a post-Covid recession. There is going to be something else coming down the track which is going to keep those pressures on.
‘Jersey is quite a distinct have and have-not society because of the differentiation in pay across the sectors and especially for those where the minimum wage is the norm. That’s not great for the development of a society where everybody is well-placed,’ he said.