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No repeat of Everyone In efforts to help rough sleepers, says minister

Thangam Debonnaire accused the government of "lowering their ambition" for not repeating the nationwide call urging rough sleepers to be brought in off the streets during lockdown

The Government has confirmed that it will not repeat the large scale efforts which brought 15,000 rough sleepers off the streets in March, despite growing concern for those experiencing homelessness during the coronavirus pandemic over winter. 

Kelly Tolhurst, the Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing, said the Government had dedicated £700 million to tackle homelessness during an urgent question in Parliament from Labour, and “strongly objected” to the suggestion that those helped by the scheme were rough sleeping once again.

The widely praised Everyone In scheme saw 15,000 people housed in hotels and other emergency accommodation at the height of the first national lockdown, and experts have warned of a “tragedy in the making” if ministers do not commit to matching that national support.   

Despite the second national lockdown in England, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced a £15m Protect Programme last week to support rough sleepers through the winter. This will go alongside the ongoing work of the Everyone In scheme and the Next Steps Programme that is intended to move people from the pandemic into long-term homes.

Jenrick also announced a £10 million Cold Weather Fund for all councils to protect rough sleepers in the winter.

Labour’s shadow housing secretary, Thangham Debbonaire, said the “extraordinary effort” of the scheme had prevented hundreds of deaths in the first lockdown and questioned why the government had “lowered its ambition” by failing to repeat the national call for all rough sleepers to be brought in off the streets. 

“What has changed since March? It is colder, and the cold weather fund is lower than it was last year,” Debbonaire said. 

“So can the minister tell the house why the Government have lowered their ambition? Their plan provides neither the leadership nor the funding to ensure all rough sleepers have a Covid-secure place.” 

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Tolhurst responded by saying the government was providing “unprecedented support.” 

“I hope she recognises that this government has put £700 million into homelessness and rough sleeping support this year alone,” Tolhurst said. 

“That is unprecedented support, and it is decisive action that this government took in dealing with the Covid crisis.

“Although I strongly object to the fact that many have returned to the streets, we were working on this plan in the summer with local authorities in order to work out what the next steps would be after the Everyone In programme.” 

While the Everyone In scheme was successful in helping people living on the streets in March, CHAIN rough sleeping figures suggest that people hit by the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic are making their way on to the streets. Figures from between April and June this year showed that almost two-thirds of the 4,227 people recorded as sleeping rough in the English capital were doing so for the first time.

The government announced in July that £266 million is being provided to local authorities to provide move-on and next-step accommodation, with more than £150 million of that invested in long-term support for rough sleepers.

But charities have expressed concern that only a small amount of the funding has been ring-fenced.

Young people, in particular, are at risk of struggling to find employment and falling into homelessness. 

Paul Noblet, head of public affairs at Centrepoint, a charity supporting young rough sleepers, said that failing to follow up the Everyone In scheme with similar funding risks “undoing” the good work done in March. 

Noblet said: “During the first few days of the March lockdown the government acted quickly to ensure rough sleepers and those supporting them were safe, but since then the number of people sleeping on the streets has increased.

“Everyone In was the right response in the spring, and it is the right response now. To not follow through with the same level of funding risks undoing the good work of government, councils and charities over the past few months.

“Ministers have shown they want to support rough sleepers, but we need the Treasury to make their pledges a priority. 

“Unless funding goes beyond piecemeal announcements there is a real chance that rough sleepers will remain at risk and that the government will miss its pledge to end rough sleeping by 2024.”