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Grant Shapps: ‘Government must cling on to rough sleeping gains’

The Transport Secretary recently signed a homelessness charter to stop rough sleeping at train stations. He tells The Big Issue that ‘best thinking and huge amounts of energy’ are needed prevent winter homelessness

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has vowed that the Government must “cling on” to the success of the Everyone In scheme to hit their target of ending rough sleeping by the end of 2024.

The cabinet minister was full of praise for the efforts to protect rough sleepers from the Covid-19 pandemic during the full lockdown, housing 14,610 vulnerable people in England at its peak.

Shapps stressed that it was “an extraordinary effort” to get people into shelter but that success must now be built on.

But while the Everyone In scheme was wound down when Covid-19 restrictions eased in the summer, there is no sign of similar plans taking shape as measures to combat the virus ramp up again and temperatures begin to drop.

This week Crisis, St Mungo’s, the Royal College of Physicians (RCOP) and members of the Government’s own SAGE advisory committee called for ministers to move rough sleepers into self-contained accommodation until the rise in Covid-19 cases is curtailed.

Government spending on rough sleeping this year has topped half a billion pounds with promises of 3,300 homes inside 12 months for rough sleepers housed during the pandemic and 6,000 over the next four years. The £433 million funding to find those homes was accelerated the request of Dame Louise Casey, who quit her role as the head of the Rough Sleeping Task Force in August.

But Shapps insists that the Government’s summer efforts show that it can protect rough sleepers and hit their 2024 target.

“Perhaps we are starting from a lower base but winter is always phenomenally difficult and there is always that extra push to try and help people off the streets,” said Shapps.”I think what we want to do this year is to try and cling on to some of the gains that we’ve had by helping and persuading people to come off the streets.

“It’s a big commitment (to end rough sleeping by 2024) and needs a programme to match. “One of the things about Covid is that it showed we can do things: we managed to get huge numbers of people off the streets. It does show what we’re capable of when we put our minds to it.”

Grant Shapps
Grant Shapps (top left) met Big Issue vendor John Cahill at Paddington Station as the vendor worked on his artwork ahead of World Homeless Day

While now on the transport brief, Shapps was Housing Minister between 2010 and 2012, and claims credit for transforming StreetLink – a vital service that allows the public to make support services aware of rough sleepers – from a phone line into an app.

Shapps wants to make this service part of his plan to end rough sleeping at transport hubs. This week, he signed a homelessness charter alongside Network Rail and British Transport Police in the hope it will encourage station staff and passengers to look out for people using stations for shelter to connect them with support.

I think we have to put together all the best thinking and huge amounts of energy to resolve homelessness

It is one of the methods that the government is hoping will help end rough sleeping but Britain’s housing crisis means that finding permanent accommodation remains a challenge, with some local authorities still housing rough sleepers while they search for properties.

Welwyn Hatfield MP Shapps insists that the government is better equipped with the £11.5bn Affordable Homes Programme to tackle the long-running problem than when he was in charge of the housing purse strings. 

Shapps said: “Often we then get stuck with there not being enough homes. But, then again, the Affordable Housing Programme is massive – these numbers by the way in comparison to when I was housing minister were phenomenal. I didn’t have that kind of cash, it was austerity and the Coalition Government. This is three times the size and a big programme so hopefully we can help a lot of people through that.”

And when asked if he would consider ideas from The Big Issue’s Ride Out Recession Alliance, he added: “I think we have to put together all the best thinking and huge amounts of energy to resolve homelessness. In a civilised country people shouldn’t live on our streets and it shouldn’t be a problem. You’ve got to use every possible resource, every programme, every idea to help every individual.”

Images: Network Rail/Parliament