A PILOT scheme which could use empty council houses in Caerphilly county borough to accommodate rough sleepers has received initial backing from councillors.

Cornerstone Support Services currently carry out homeless prevention and rough sleeper programmes alongside the council and local churches.

Volunteers have helped find homes for more than 360 people in the last four years, with 90 per cent remaining in their tenancies.

And now the group’s director Andrew Clarke is calling for the council to take up a scheme which would utilise vacant homes as houses in multiple occupation (HMO) for prospective tenants.

Speaking to members of the policy and resources scrutiny committee, Mr Clarke said: “We’ve got places empty and people on the street, and we’ve got a chance here to say no.

“If you have a three-bed house, we can get three people off the street.

“I genuinely believe there is a huge will amongst the homelessness team to end the need to sleep rough. We could be the first borough [in Wales] to do this.”

Mr Clarke told councillors that “more flexible” use of housing stock was being supported by the authority’s homeless officers and registered social landlords (RSLs).

The strategy is currently being tested with an HMO in the borough where two rough sleepers are currently living, with a further two expected to move in imminently.

While the pilot scheme was described as “not being supported living accommodation”, onsite support would be provided to ensure antisocial behaviour issues are dealt with.

The tenants, who are all under-35s, will also receive support from the Department of Work and Pensions and Careers Wales to make them “work ready”.

“We want to improve their employability and to move them away from benefits,” said Mr Clarke on Tuesday.

“We will work with them intensely until that landlord is happy. Once settled, we will move them into an independent flat made affordable through work.”

“There is a fear in communities – ‘not next door to me thank you very much’, but it’s worth a try. The commitment is for a year, and if it doesn’t work we step away.”

Independent councillor Kevin Etheridge described the pilot as a “really good opportunity that needed to be marketed effectively”.

The council’s deputy leader, Labour councillor Barbara Jones, said: “This maybe a way of bringing our empty properties back into usefulness through providing homes for people.”

Sue Cousins, principal housing officer, made it clear that the scheme was in its infancy and that HMOs would be allocated on a case-by-case basis.

The council’s chief housing officer, Shaun Couzens, added: “We will not be promoting loads of HMOs across the borough, we’re not rushing this. We want to make better use of the assets we’ve got.”