Government must avoid homeless ‘tragedy in the making’ during lockdown

Ramped up Covid-19 measures trigger campaigners' calls for the Everyone In scheme to return to provide accommodation for rough sleepers

The government is facing calls to repeat efforts to protect rough sleepers to avoid a Covid-19 “tragedy in the making” during England’s second lockdown.

The Everyone In scheme brought 15,000 rough sleepers off the streets between March and July this year but, as new protective measures close essential businesses across England from early November, experts have urged officials to protect those experiencing homelessness in the winter months.

“The advice from government is to stay home and save lives, but what does this mean for someone who is homeless?” said Lucy Abraham, chief executive of homelessness charity Glass Door. ”We have learnt that no one is safe unless we are all safe, and we urge the Government to put more resources into protecting rough sleepers this winter.”

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Everyone In moved people into hotels and other emergency accommodation during the first full national lockdown and was considered a success. A University College London study concluded that the urgent action saved at least 226 lives. It also helped Big Issue vendors like London seller Kris Dove, 29, and 39-year-old Dave Campion, who sells the magazine in Dawlish, South Devon, to move from the streets and into permanent accommodation. 

Boris Johnson’s announcement that England will face a four-week lockdown from Thursday has triggered calls for the Everyone In scheme to return to protect people living on the streets as the number of Covid-19 cases continue to skyrocket.

So far, plans for rough sleepers have been noticeably absent from the government’s communications on their plans to help people through lockdown.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick shared details on Twitter in the hours after the Prime Minister’s Saturday night announcement with updated guidance on moving home, extended mortgage holidays and shielding rules.

But there was no mention of what would happen to rough sleepers and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government told The Big Issue that “something is in the works” in their latest Monday morning update.

Last week the government department announced that £150 million would be made available to provide 3,300 homes for rough sleepers assisted during Everyone In with a permanent place to stay in England.

We know of no plans from central government to house rough sleepers in hotels during this second lockdown or indeed, at all this winter. It is very worrying

But now the Covid-19 lockdown is sparking calls for urgent action. Abraham told The Big Issue that a robust response to protect rough sleepers is required to avert a “tragedy in the making”.

“We know of no plans from central government to house rough sleepers in hotels during this second lockdown or indeed, at all this winter. It is very worrying,” she said. 

“During a global health pandemic and at a time when we know many people are facing losing jobs and homes, the lack of a strong response from central government is a tragedy in the making.”

Central government has spent more than £700m on tackling homelessness and rough sleeping throughout the pandemic and last month announced a £10m Cold Weather Payment for councils to help rough sleepers this winter. They also unveiled a £2m pot for faith and community groups to get rough sleepers into accommodation.

However, Abraham insists that the £266m available to house rough sleepers helped with emergency accommodation throughout Everyone In is not enough with local authorities receiving “a fraction” of what they need.

Abraham added: “Homelessness this winter promises to be much more severe. Glass Door’s frontline staff are already seeing the impact of people losing their jobs and homes, with an increase in people who have never been homeless before turning to the charity.  

“Yet at a time when shelters are needed most, our ability to open communal shelters is severely hampered by the pandemic. We need properly funded self-contained, Covid-secure accommodation, which we know is the safest way to protect those who would otherwise be sleeping rough during this period.”

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, echoed Abrahams concerns. He said: “With England set to go into lockdown later this week and coronavirus infection ratesincreasing, the Government must reintroduce the Everyone In scheme to protect people who are sleeping rough on our streets. 

“This scheme was transformative at the beginning of the pandemic, providing almost 30,000 people with emergency accommodation and a safe space where they could access vital support and get their health back on track.

“Many more people are currently being pushed into homelessness as businesses and livelihoods are impacted. With winter approaching, the Government must ensure local councils have the funding they need to help people safely self- isolate this winter.”

Shelter CEO Polly Neate called for protections for rough sleepers to include those who have no recourse to public funds (NRPF) and cannot claim benefits. Support for NRPF people was left to the discretion of individual councils during the Everyone In scheme.

Neate tweeted: “No one should be homeless in lockdown in a place of danger. That means on the streets, or in temporary accommodation where health is in danger, and it means everyone, regardless of need or immigration status.”

Homeless Link also called for Everyone In to return, insisting that they and the homelessness charities and organisations they work with are “offering our support and that of the sector to repeat and exceed the success of the scheme in March”.

Image: Alex Baxevanis