THE cost of providing shelter for homeless people or those at risk of sleeping rough has been put at more than £1m in the last three years, the Chronicle can reveal.

According to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, Barnsley Council’s costs climbed from £135,381 before the pandemic to £518,167 in the last financial year - a 282 per cent hike.

More than £440,000 was spent between March 2021 to April 2022, while between April 2023 and last month, the figure reached just over £300,000 - taking the cumulative total to £1.26m in three years.

It comes just months after housing teams responsible for the expenditure were urged to ‘reset their ways of working’ to reduce reliance on costly placements in hotels and bed-and-breakfasts for people at risk of homelessness.

One area housing bosses are looking at is bringing long-term empty properties - part of the Berneslai Homes-managed 18,000 strong housing stock - back into quicker use to potentially ease the temporary accommodation cost.

Separate findings show a total of 110 homes have been unoccupied for six months or more - as of February - which has resulted in a rent loss of more than £9,000 per week, of £468,000 annually based on average charges of £84.73 per week.

The government previously pledged to end rough sleeping by this year, but since the ‘Everyone In’ scheme - which housed homeless people in emergency hotels during the pandemic ended in 2021, the number of people sleeping on the streets has rocketed.

The latest Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities figures show eight people were estimated to be sleeping rough in Barnsley based on a snapshot of a single night in autumn last year up from five the year before.

The count includes people sleeping outside but does not cover so-called ‘sofa surfers’ or those in hostels or shelters.

Matt Downie, the chief executive of homeless charity Crisis, said: “The scale of rough sleeping is now a source of national shame.

“It is a sign of extreme inequality and must prompt a rethink at the highest levels of government.

“It cannot be overstated how dehumanising sleeping on the streets is.

“Through our frontline services we hear directly from people who have been spat at, urinated on or attacked simply because they do not have the security of a safe home.

“Things have got to change.

“To bring these numbers down, we urgently need the government to put long-term funding into the proven solutions we know help people to leave the streets behind.

“Crucially, we also need to see a complete change in approach and a commitment to build the levels of social housing we need every year.”

Coun Wendy Cain, cabinet spokesperson for public health and communities, said: “Our housing options team continue to undertake regular outreach activity with partners to find rough sleepers and offer them help.

“During spells of particularly cold weather through the winter, we have a severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) in place - when this is triggered, there are teams in place to make sure that no-one is sleeping rough.

“We are working with partners to prevent homelessness in the first place and make sure residents get the support they need.

“Over the last couple of years, temporary accommodation costs nationally have risen and a lot of this can be attributed to the cost-of-living crisis and the general housing market conditions, including low turnover of social housing, increased rents and access to the private sector.

“We also acknowledge the need for temporary accommodation is difficult to predict as it all depends on many factors, including demand for and availability of housing, the economic climate and policies.

“As part of the recently published Homeless Prevention and Rough Sleeping Strategy, we are committed to reducing the costs of temporary accommodation and have an action plan in place.

“The plan includes consideration of alternative models to using hotels, managing void stock and working with people earlier to reduce the need for temporary accommodation.”