Dame Louise Casey heads taskforce to keep rough sleepers off streets

The move is the first indication that the unprecedented action to protect homeless people will extend beyond the pandemic

The Government has launched a new taskforce to find long-term homes for people currently housed in emergency accommodation, the first step in what they say is a plan to end rough sleeping after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Homelessness tzar Dame Louise Casey has been put in charge of the taskforce to provide rough sleepers “long-term, safe accommodation” once they are able to leave the hotels, hostels and other short-term homes where many are currently housed. She will work with local authorities to ensure that rough sleepers don’t have to return to the streets.

The taskforce will also be in charge of ensuring that their short-term physical and mental health needs will be met while people are in lockdown in emergency accommodation over the coming weeks.

This national effort has potentially helped to protect thousands of lives

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick also confirmed that more than 90 per cent of rough sleepers known to councils have been offered accommodation – although not all have accepted that offer, such as Truro Big Issue vendor Craig who feared for his safety when coming into contact with others.

And there have also been reports of people leaving hotels or being removed after struggling to adapt to the rules and demands of their new surroundings. It underlines the difficulty of a one-size-fits-all approach to ending rough sleeping.

And that’s why the much-vaunted Housing First approach – which has seen success in Finland and increasingly in Scotland – is focused on wraparound support that is tailored to the individual once they are housed.

But the move is a positive step in the right direction in the Government’s attempts to end rough sleeping during their five-year term.

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“By working closely with councils, charities, faith groups and health providers, we have offered accommodation to over 5,400 people who were sleeping rough at the beginning of the crisis: that’s over 90% of known rough sleepers,” said Jenrick.

“This national effort has potentially helped to protect thousands of lives.

“As the country prepares for the next phase of the battle against coronavirus, Dame Louise Casey will spearhead a taskforce to provide us with expert advice and knowledge to put in place a long-term plan to stop as many vulnerable people as possible from returning to life on the streets.”

Dame Casey led the Rough Sleepers’ Unit under Tony Blair’s Labour Government back in the late-90s and early 2000s. Before the pandemic, the Government had already tasked her with looking into additional actions to end rough sleeping following the release of the annual count in February.

She said: “The storm of Covid-19 has affected us all in many, varied and sometimes deeply tragic ways – we know that it is a virus that does not discriminate. Due to the incredible efforts by people in local councils, charities, hotel staff and the public, many rough sleepers have been brought in and off the streets.

“Much has been done, and there is much still to do. We have all had to respond to this crisis with a deep resolve but also innovation – in bringing people inside, there is now a real opportunity to address the health and social needs of these individuals and if we can stop them going back to the streets. This, like so much over the last few weeks, will take a huge national effort and I’m pleased to be able to be part of that.”

Big Issue editor Paul McNamee welcomed the announcement.

He said: “The removal of rough sleepers to places of shelter during the Covid crisis proves it is possible with political will and joined up thinking.

“In many ways, this a massive, Britain-wide Housing First drive – getting people off streets, then dealing with the underlying problems. The bigger challenge will be keeping people off the streets when the threat of coronavirus recedes.

“We welcome the launch of the taskforce and are keen to see how we help rid Britain of the horror of rough sleeping and homelessness.”

The past few weeks has seen unprecedented action in an unprecedented situation – but has shown what can be achieved when the will is there

Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes praised the move, insisting that the progress is a sign of what can be achieved “when the will is there”.

“We look forward to working closely with the taskforce to provide as many people as possible with a home of their own,” he said.

“We agree with the government that people who are homeless don’t just deserve protection during a crisis – they should have ‘long-term, sustainable and safe accommodation’ when the pandemic is over.”