Dame Louise Casey steps down from Rough Sleeping Taskforce role

The homelessness tsar led the government’s Covid-19 pandemic response on rough sleeping, housing almost 15,000 people to protect them from the virus. Now Crisis are warning of a “leadership vacuum” on efforts to end rough sleeping for good

The homelessness tsar Dame Louise Casey will step down from her role as head of the Rough Sleeping Taskforce, the government has confirmed.

Dame Louise was brought into the government fold in February to lead a review into the state of rough sleeping in the country before being put in charge of the government’s rough sleeping response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

She was announced as the head of the Rough Sleeping Taskforce in March with plenty of fanfare, and led the Everyone In initiative that saw 14,610 rough sleepers in England housed in hotels and other temporary accommodation to protect them from the virus.

Speaking exclusively to The Big Issue back in April, Dame Louise said that authorities had to work quickly to protect rough sleepers from the end of March onwards.

“The primary motivation so far was led by Covid-19 to do an extraordinary thing in unprecedented times, which was to say, “Let’s just get everyone in.” she said. “We had everybody getting on the phone to hotels, getting [charities] St Mungo’s, Thames Reach and Look Ahead in London to stand up enough staff to literally in a couple of weeks add to the estate in London by 2,000 beds.

“We were chasing the virus just trying to stay ahead of it. When the inquiry eventually comes saying: “How did you do it? Why did you do it? And what choices did you make?” We just went for it, everybody went for it. We had to get everybody in, we cannot have people dying on the streets.”

Now, Dame Louise’s role was supposed to be working with councils to find “safe, long term” homes for rough sleepers housed during the crisis, with the government promising to find 3,300 places in the next 12 months and 6,000 in total.

But she has now stepped back from the post – just days before the eviction ban in England is due to be lifted – reportedly telling housing and campaign groups on Wednesday that her “contribution to public service” will continue in the House of Lords. She was awarded a peerage by Prime Minister Boris Johnson just weeks ago.

She reportedly wrote: “This seemed like the right moment to step back, especially as the country looks to gear up to the ‘new normal’.”

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick MP paid tribute to her contribution. He said: “I would like to thank Dame Louise for her contribution at such a challenging time, which has led to so many rough sleepers being helped off the streets and kept safe from coronavirus.

“Her work leading the Rough Sleeping Taskforce will ensure as many people as possible who have been brought in do not return to sleeping rough.

“Our plans for longer-term accommodation – 3,300 homes this year alone – and tailored support – backed by half a billion pounds of funding this year and next – will help us to meet our commitment to end rough sleeping once and for all.”

The shock departure has led homelessness groups to warn of a “leadership vacuum” at a key crossroads in the battle to end rough sleeping in this country.

With the race on to find homes for rough sleepers brought off the streets during the pandemic and the prospect of more people losing their homes in the wake of the evictions ban’s end, decisions made in the coming weeks and months will decide whether we see a return to the mass rough sleeping we came to know before the pandemic.

The Big Issue’s Ride Out Recession Alliance is working hard to prevent homelessness following the Covid-19 lockdown.

“We are sad to hear that Dame Louise Casey is stepping down,” said Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis. “For the second time in her career, Dame Louise has made extraordinary progress in tackling rough sleeping across England. At the start of the pandemic, nearly 15,000 people were provided with safe accommodation in a matter of weeks under her assertive leadership. It showed what can be achieved when homelessness is given the priority it deserves and when there is joined up action across Government departments.

“We urge Minsters not to leave a leadership vacuum. With the economic impact of the pandemic pushing more people into homelessness, we must redouble our efforts otherwise we risk rates of rough sleeping rising with all the human misery this entails. Crisis is urgently calling for emergency legislation to protect renters from eviction and to guarantee everyone experiencing homelessness with temporary accommodation during this ongoing public health crisis.”

Thangam Debbonaire MP, Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary added: “This raises serious questions about the Government’s strategy on rough sleeping.

“This chaotic government has no plan to avoid a self-made homelessness crisis this winter. They need to extend the ban on evictions, and come forward with a credible plan to keep their promise that no renter will lose their home because of coronavirus.”