Our Head of Policy, Campaigns and Research, Beatrice Orchard, reflects on the unprecedented and impressive response to the coronavirus pandemic so far and outlines what the Government must do to protect people experiencing homelessness during the crisis.
Daily life has been turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic. High streets have closed for business and the Government has told everyone to ‘stay at home’, except in some very limited circumstances. But for people who are sleeping rough, this is impossible.
The Government was quick to recognise the issue and put some measures in place, including allocating £3.2 million to help councils get accommodation for people sleeping rough to self-isolate. Ministers sent a clear message to all councils that everyone sleeping rough must be urgently supported into appropriate accommodation.
The response from councils, homelessness charities and other partner agencies has been unprecedented and impressive. Rightly so.
So far our teams have supported more than 700 people who were sleeping rough or in emergency accommodation to self-isolate safely in hotel rooms and other self-contained accommodation. And we will continue to help many more in the days and weeks to come.
However, this task is not simple because it’s about more much more than just getting people indoors. People need support to be able to follow public health advice. The provision of food and medicine is obviously critical, but so is support to cope with boredom and isolation, as well as poor mental health, drug and alcohol problems and domestic abuse.
Which is why it is good to hear about thoughtful responses in local areas, such as Brighton and Hove where televisions and games consoles are also being collected to help people who are feeling isolated.
There has been great progress to date. But there is much more to do.
To truly protect everyone from coronavirus the Government must to do more to recognise the specific needs of every individual who is homeless during the current crisis. That’s why we’re calling on the Government to:
- Ensure everyone can get suitable accommodation and stop more people ending up on the streets by:
Continuing to support council and charity outreach teams to help people sleeping rough, or staying in night shelters, get into housing or hotel accommodation. Despite enormous efforts, there are still hundreds of people on the streets.
Helping councils to support everyone who needs it to get help. We are hearing that people who might have been sofa surfing before are starting to end up on the streets as this option becomes more difficult. The Government should send a clear message to councils that everyone at risk of, or already homeless, must be found suitable temporary accommodation, regardless of the rules which normally apply, such as local connection, priority need or intentionality.
Ending the exclusion of some migrants from being able to get help by suspending ‘no recourse’ rules that restrict access to publicly funded support for the duration of the pandemic. Global travel restrictions mean no one can be expected to return to another country while the pandemic is ongoing. The Government has already suspended evictions from Home Office accommodation for asylum seekers, but must now ensure everyone living in the UK is entitled to homelessness and welfare assistance if they need it, regardless of their immigration status. This is vital for preventing more people from sleeping rough during the crisis.
- Meet the needs of women who are homeless. Women are more likely to be ‘hidden homeless’ due to sleeping out of sight for safety and avoiding male dominated services where they are at risk of sexual violence. Councils should provide safe, women-only accommodation and specialist support for women sleeping rough, and at risk of doing so, during the crisis.
- Provide more funding to support people in temporary housing or hotel accommodation and ensure no one returns to rough sleeping. It is essential that homeless people accommodated during the crisis are not left unsupported, and it will take skilled and specialist teams to support people to find and maintain longer-term housing beyond the crisis. Funding for services providing this type of support had been cut by £1bn since 2008-9. The Government must be prepared to provide additional funding to ensure no one has to return to rough sleeping.
It’s absolutely right that efforts to accommodate people sleeping rough are driven by a focus on saving lives during this public health emergency. No one should be more likely to die from coronavirus simply because they are homeless.
More than this though, the efforts that we are seeing now represent a unique chance to end rough sleeping once and for all. Let’s work together to make sure that opportunity is not missed.
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If you see someone sleeping rough, please let StreetLink know so they can help connect them to local services. Or in a medical emergency call 999.