The Government has asked local authorities to step in to house rough sleepers this weekend to protect the vulnerable group from the coronavirus.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government wrote to councils’ homelessness managers and rough sleeping co-ordinators yesterday calling for them to move homeless people off the streets as well as those in hostels and night shelters.
The letter read: “As you know, this is a public health emergency. 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.
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“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’.”
The Big Issue received notice of the government’s plans last week and their guidance was a central factor in our decision to temporarily halt vendors from selling the magazine on the streets as of last weekend.
The Big Issue founder Lord John Bird, reacting to today’s announcement, told Sky News this morning: “We’ve got to protect people on the streets. Their immune systems are much lower than everybody else, they need to be aided and abetted in getting away from the threat of the coronavirus.
The Big Issue has inspired the launch of 120 street papers globally, including sister titles in Australia, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.
“Since Friday we have stopped selling The Big Issue on the streets on the advice of the government because they told us their plans. We don’t want them catching the coronavirus and having the kind of illnesses that go with it.”
Before the coronavirus outbreak, the Government had pledged to end rough sleeping by the end of their term in power in the next five years.
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
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, insisted that the emergency action taken by the authorities shows that the target can be achieved and is a merely a question of political will.
“The Government’s insistence that everyone sleeping rough should be housed by the weekend is a landmark moment – and the right thing to do,” he said.
“Questions remain about how local councils will be supported to do this, and whether additional funding, or assistance securing hotel rooms, will be made available. 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.
“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.”
The Local Government Association share Crisis’ concerns about how already stretched councils will comply with the measures.
Cllr James Jamieson, LGA 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.”