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Coronavirus: Rise in homelessness during pandemic amid fears hotel scheme to end within weeks

Job losses and barriers to sofa-surfing during lockdown pushing people to the brink, charities warn

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 04 June 2020 07:30 BST
New research by Crisis reveals more than half of frontline services have seen a rise in homelessness
New research by Crisis reveals more than half of frontline services have seen a rise in homelessness (Getty)

There has been a surge in people becoming homeless during the coronavirus crisis as job losses and barriers to sofa-surfing during lockdown push people to the brink, charities have warned.

At the same time, thousands of rough sleepers who have been housed during the pandemic could be forced to return to the streets at the end of the month unless there is an urgent injection of government funding, it is feared.

New research from the Crisis charity reveals more than half of frontline services have seen a rise in homelessness, with nearly three-quarters saying demand for their services had increased since the start of the pandemic.

The study, which surveyed 150 charities and organisations supporting homeless people, found that coronavirus had placed “huge pressure” on people already struggling with low wages and high rent.

Six in 10 respondents said they had seen an increase in people who had recently lost their job seeking support, while a similar proportion had seen a rise in people who were previously sofa-surfing now requiring help, often because lockdown had prevented them from being able to continue staying with friends or family.

The organisations also reported a dramatic rise in people seeking help for basics like food (86 per cent) and money (76 per cent), as well as feelings of loneliness and isolation (96 per cent).

Ellesse, 22, from Sheffield, was working in a shoe kiosk until two months ago when the pandemic forced bosses to close and she was let go. With help from Crisis she was able to negotiate a delay in paying her rent, but she will need to pay back the arrears at some point.

“I applied for universal credit but because of when I lost my job, I won’t receive any housing benefit until next month meaning I’ve not been able to pay my rent,” she said. “My final wage was nowhere near enough to cover two months’ worth of bills and food. I really want to get back to work but I’m worried as barely any businesses are hiring so it’s hard to predict what the future will hold.”

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “At this very minute tens of thousands of people across Britain are struggling against a rising tide of job insecurity and high rents, all of which threaten to push them into homelessness. This isn’t right especially when, given the progress we’ve made so far, we know that ending homelessness is within our grasp.”

New government figures show local authorities have accommodated 14,610 homeless people in hotels and other forms of housing during the pandemic, which Crisis praised as “extraordinary action” to get everyone into safe accommodation.

But the charity warned that contracts between local authorities and hotels were due to terminate at the end of June, and that there was as yet no plan to make sure people would be supported into alternative housing.

Director of policy Matt Downie welcomed a government announcement last week that 3,000 units of accommodation would be made available over the next 12 months, but said there was a “clear disparity between what is needed and what the government has planned”.

David Renard, housing spokesperson for the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England, said that following the "monumental effort" to house large numbers of homeless people at the start of the pandemic, councils were now experiencing an urgent need for more accommodation as people lose their homes during the crisis.

“While the recently announced funding for councils to support rough sleepers is positive, we still need clarity from government on what additional practical support will be available to councils to help them move people out of hotels and temporary accommodation and into housing," he said.

"Allowing councils to be able to keep 100 per cent of receipts from Right to Buy sales and extending the deadline to spend the money to at least five years, will also allow councils to get on with the job of building the new homes that people in their areas desperately need.”

A government spokesperson said: “Any suggestion we are rowing back on our commitment to support rough sleepers is untrue and we are clear that councils must continue to provide safe accommodation.

“Our new rough sleeping taskforce will ensure as many people as possible who have been brought in off the streets in this pandemic do not return. We have accelerated plans for new services – backed by £433m – which will ensure 6,000 new housing units will be put into the system, with 3,300 available in the next 12 months.

“The government has put in place an unprecedented package to help prevent people getting into financial hardship or rent arrears. This has included support for businesses to pay staff salaries and the strengthening of the welfare safety-net with an additional £6.5bn.”

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