Coronavirus: All rough sleepers in England should be housed by weekend, government says

Announcement described as ‘landmark moment’ by homelessness charity Crisis

Samuel Lovett
Friday 27 March 2020 09:54 GMT
Prof Neil Ferguson of Imperial College predicts peak coronavirus in 2-3 weeks' time

The government has asked local authorities in England to house all rough sleepers and those sleeping in hostels and night shelters by the weekend, as part of efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus.

In a letter sent to homelessness managers and rough sleeping coordinators across the country, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We are all redoubling our efforts to do what we possibly can at this stage to ensure that everybody is inside and safe by this weekend, and we stand with you in this.

“These are unusual times so I’m asking for an unusual effort. Many areas of the country have already been able to ‘safe harbour’ their people, which is incredible. What we need to do now though is work out how we can get ‘everyone in’.”

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, the homelessness charity, described the announcement as a “landmark moment”, saying that it was “the right thing to do”.

“We also need to see a package of support so that, when the outbreak subsides, the outcome is not that people return to the streets,” he added.

“The government has committed to ending rough sleeping by 2025 – this proves it can be done in 2020 if we make it the priority it deserves to be.”

Following the announcement, Crisis also called on the government to suspend all evictions from Home Office asylum accommodation and restrictions on housing benefit, allowing councils to rehouse people with no recourse to public funds.

The government is set to allocate an additional £1.6 billion in funding to local authorities to enable them to deliver their various services in relation to the coronavirus crisis, including the provision of accommodation for rough sleepers and the homeless.

Homeless Link, a charity that represents organisations on the frontline of homelessness and supported housing in England, said it was “encouraged that the government has taken this step and charged all local authorities to address this issue with the appropriate level of urgency”.

Chief executive Rick Henderson added: “What will be key in the coming months is that people brought in are not returned to the streets, but that the funding is in place to provide suitable housing and support to enable those rough sleeping to end their homelessness for good.”

Many rough sleepers have already been accommodated thanks to a targeted £3.2m emergency fund, but up to 45,000 “self-contained accommodation spaces” are needed to house the UK’s homeless population.

To date, a number of hotels have offered their assistance in bringing people off the street to help contain the spread of Covid-19.

Last week, 300 beds at the Intercontinental Hotels Group – which owns the Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Crowne Plaza brands – were block-booked for the next three months to allow rough sleepers to self-isolate.

Under the government’s national action plan, offices are also expected to be converted into emergency safe spaces for the UK’s homeless.​

Figures released last week revealed that, along with rough sleepers, a total of 62,280 families are currently living in temporary accommodation in England – 5,400 of those with shared facilities, placing them at higher risk of infection from coronavirus.

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