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Charities tell PM ‘too many people’ left on the streets during pandemic

Requests to councils to get homeless people into accommodation where they can self-isolate did not go far enough, campaigners said

Homelessness activists have written to the government demanding urgent action as local authority efforts to house rough sleepers have not gone far enough.

There remain too many barriers to giving homeless people suitable accommodation where they can shelter from the spread of the virus and self-isolate if they become unwell, campaigners from Crisis, Homeless Link and Thames Reach said.

Last week the government asked local authorities in England to take in all rough sleepers and homeless people in hostels – the first move of its kind in Westminster history.

But it’s not enough to protect vulnerable people during the coronavirus outbreak, campaigners said, and the charities are concerned by stories of councils “denying help to people on the basis of them not having a local connection to the area” or turning away people who have no recourse to public funds, including asylum seekers.

Homeless people are particularly at risk during the Covid-19 crisis not least because they are three times more likely to have an underlying health condition as the rest of the population.

In the letter, the signatories commended ministers for their action so far helping get some rough sleepers into hotels which will “undoubtedly save lives”, adding that boosts given to protection for renters and those reliant on the welfare system would prevent more people becoming homeless.

But the country still faces a “public health emergency and a race against time” to protect vulnerable people during the outbreak.

The campaigners set out next steps for ministers, including removing the legal barriers that could stop people receiving homelessness assistance; funding for councils to provide accommodation and support the people housed there; PPE for frontline staff in homelessness services and cash to support people struggling to pay their rent.

Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said: “We commend the government’s swift action to protect people most at risk by ensuring they have somewhere safe to stay during the pandemic. But the stark fact remains that there are people whose lives are still in danger, sleeping on our streets or trapped in crowded hostels and night shelters.

“To fulfil the ambition of getting ‘everyone in’ we must see the final barriers stopping people from getting the help they need removed. This means ensuring councils have the money they need to support people into hotel accommodation and a clear message that anyone, no matter who they are or their circumstance, will get the help they need to shelter from the pandemic.

“We must also ensure that once people have been accommodated they get access to the health care they need if they are affected by the virus, and in the long term are supported into safe, permanent housing once this crisis is over.”

When the government contacted local authorities asking them to get rough sleepers off the streets, there were concerns about how already-stretched councils would be able to comply with the measures.

Councillor James Jamieson, Local Government Association chairman, said: “Councils have been working hard to identify rough sleepers and homeless people, get them off the streets and into suitable accommodation and help protect them from the coronavirus.

“This will be a huge task given the shortage of accommodation available with many councils now affected by the recent closures of hotels and the difficulties some have faced where rough sleepers refuse to engage or take up the offer of help.

“To help these efforts, some councils will need to call on the Government for urgent help to find accommodation and enforce this and have access to funding if they need to cover additional staffing and support costs.”