Government 'Can Do More' To Get Rough Sleepers Off The Streets During Coronavirus Outbreak
Homelessness campaigners have warned that 'thousands' of rough sleepers are still without accommodation - despite government promises to get them all off the streets during the coronavirus outbreak.
While the move to protect the homeless - announced last week - was applauded by the public and those working with the homeless, the reality is that carrying out such a huge operation was never going to be as easy or straightforward as it sounded.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government told all local councils in England to find accommodation for rough sleepers by the weekend. But homelessness campaigners claim that it hasn't quite worked out that way.
Hannah Gousy, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Crisis, tells LADbible: "We don't have official numbers but we were told as of last Friday, 4,200 people have been provided with accommodation and it's likely that number has got up a bit over the weekend. But it's certainly not the case that everybody who needs self-contained accommodation has it.
"We're still receiving calls from people who are sleeping rough and our service is still working with people who haven't yet been provided with an offer of self-contained accommodation."
According to the London Mayor's Office, as of Sunday just 514 rough sleepers had been placed into accommodation out of an estimated 11,400.
Manchester City Council housed around 120 rough sleepers, with figures from last winter placing the numbers of those affected at 91. The discrepancy between those figures is also part of the problem because, as Manchester City Council point out, it's hard to quantify the homeless community as it's in a continuous flux.
To help boost their good work, the Greater Manchester Mayor's Charity has granted an emergency £100,000 to the city-region's homelessness charity sector while also launching an appeal to bring in more money to help those who need it most.
Elsewhere, other councils are also working hard to try and take get vulnerable people off the streets. In Liverpool, around 50 homeless people have been put up in an unopened hotel and Birmingham City Council has placed 250 people in a Holiday Inn.
And, while the hard work of many councils across the country is not to be sniffed at, Hannah says what is really needed is a 'more assertive approach' from national government to help local councils.
"We know that councils up and down the country are working really hard to meet the commitment to house all rough sleepers, but we know that they are going to need a lot more support from national government to do this.
"National government absolutely need to take a more assertive approach if we're going to meet this target.
"In terms of what that needs to be, it needs to include a dedicated funding stream so that local authorities can procure that self-contained accommodations but also so they can put those packages of support in there, that are so vital to help people remain in self-contained accommodation.
"We also need national government to remove the barriers that currently stand in the way of lots of people who are homeless or sleeping rough to accessing help and support.
"At the moment, if you don't have a local connection to an area then you're not eligible for homelessness assistance - as I'm sure you can imagine, if you're sleeping rough it can be extremely tough to prove you have a connection to an area and that's where we need national government to step-in and remove those legal barriers.
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"And we need national government to make sure people without recourse to public funds, because of their immigration status, are eligible for homelessness support and housing benefit."
It's also important to remember that a blanket rule to house all rough sleepers sounds a little easier than it actually is - as a number of people who are homeless have complex needs, which have to be addressed alongside the problem of simply having a bed for the night.
Neil Parkinson, a senior caseworker at London-based charity Glass Door, said: "An additional issue is that some individuals may be deemed too risky to be housed in hotels.
"For example, one of our guests was turned away because he has mental health problems and alcohol dependency, so there were concerns that his well-being would not be supported in hotel isolation.
"We understand the need to manage risks, but we are concerned that the most vulnerable people in society will be left behind on the streets. And we also need to take into consideration those whose mental health concerns make a stay in a confined space challenging."
Hannah echoed that sentiment, telling me: "At the moment, this is something that is very much being left to the local authorities, in terms of how they deal with this particular group of people.
"Obviously this set of people have a particular set of challenges and it can't be the case that people are simply given a key to a hotel room and that's it.
"That's why it's absolutely essential that national government provide this dedicated funding stream for councils, not only for the accommodation but for the support that someone might need in that particular situation, whether that is help to support with a mental or physical health problem or a problem with addiction that going to be absolutely essential to ensure people remain in that accommodation.
"But also, to make sure that when this is all over, we can end their homelessness for good by assisting them into a home."
However, before we all too feel helpless, Hannah points out that this outbreak has shown how quickly the government could act to make rough sleeping a thing of the past.
"We have the commitment from the government right now to end rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament and we've just been shown that, over the course of a few days. it's achievable to at least get people a roof over their heads.
"What that does show is that with the right political whirl and the right resources, it's absolutely possible to end rough sleeping in this country," she adds.
"Although, I should be clear that a key to a hotel room isn't the end to someone homelessness - but it's a very, very good first step and we absolutely should use this as an opportunity to make sure those people who are assisted with self-contained accommodation in hotels are provided with a home at the end of all of this.
"It would be an absolute tragedy if those people were forced back to live on the street."
If you want to help the invaluable work that Crisis are doing throughout this pandemic and beyond, they have launched a new emergency appeal - find out more, or donate, here. You can donate to Glass Door's appeal here.
LADbible and UNILAD's aim with our campaign, Cutting Through, is to provide our community with facts and stories from the people who are either qualified to comment or have experienced first-hand the situation we're facing. For more information from the World Health Organisation on coronavirus, click here.
Featured Image Credit: PA