Housing

What does a circuit-breaker lockdown mean for homeless people in Wales?

Charities set the situation 'remains challenging' for homeless people in Wales and urged the government to set out a long term plan to support rough sleepers

As Wales enters a new period of strict measures to protect people from the coronavirus pandemic, focus is turning to the vital support helping homeless people and rough sleepers stay safe from the virus.

The new set of measures are the closest any UK nation has seen to the style of lockdown first implemented in March. For The Big Issue, it means 160 vendors across Wales have been asked to stop selling the magazine temporarily, with frontline workers ready to provide them with emotional and financial support.

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When the Government acted on the UK’s coronavirus outbreak in March, it instructed local authorities to move all homeless people into single-room, secure, emergency housing, mostly in hotels.

It meant rough sleepers — who have a higher rate of chronic health conditions than the rest of the population — had somewhere to self-isolate and follow public health advice on hygiene and social distancing. Around 500 people in Wales were moved into hotels, B&Bs and social or private lets early in the pandemic, and the Welsh Government will continue to fund these efforts until at least March 2021.

Authorities have told homelessness and housing support providers to work closely with local authorities to make sure anyone who has returned to the streets is supported back into accommodation urgently.

The Welsh Government has also made a commitment to rehousing everyone who had been given emergency accommodation, making an extra £40 million available to councils. 

That money is to be used as part of what ministers are calling “phase two” — a mission to build accommodation to make sure homeless people in Wales are moved seamlessly into permanent, high-quality housing. It will benefit organisations such as Newport Mind, which is receiving some of this funding to add a new floor to their offices with seven self-contained flats.

Julie James, minister for Housing and Local Government, said the pandemic marks a “unique opportunity to change Wales’ approach to homelessness in the long term” and to make homelessness “rare, brief and unrepeated”. 

Up to £5.3 million is going to provide one-bedroom homes for single homeless people in Swansea, with more investment boosting social and mental health support for those moving from temporary to permanent housing.

The Welsh Government has also introduced the tenant saver loan scheme, helping renters cover arrears or future rent — and avoid eviction followed by homelessness — by paying directly to landlords.

Earlier this month frontline volunteers in London warned The Big Issue that particularly vulnerable homeless people, like migrants with no access to support from the state and homeless LGBTQ people, were especially at risk of falling through the gaps of efforts to move everyone into single-room accommodation.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of homelessness charity Crisis, said: Thanks to the funding and commitment of the Welsh Government this year and extraordinary work by local authorities and charities, thousands of people who were homeless in Wales were protected during the pandemic. 

“We are relieved that the funding will allow councils to continue to support people through the upcoming ‘fire break’ lockdown and into next year too. The current situation remains challenging and we need short-term solutions to keep people safe and well if they have nowhere safe to stay. 

We also need to support those who are under pressure and at risk of losing their homes, and ensure people are not forced back into homelessness by providing them with more settled homes

We urgently need the Welsh Government to set out its plan to end homelessness in Wales, which will give councils and public services more certainty to plan for the months and years ahead, beyond the pandemic. With the right approaches and policies in place we can ensure everyone has the security and dignity of a place to call home.”

The Big Issue is fighting the housing and unemployment crisis through the Ride Out Recession Alliance, bringing together innovative ideas and experts to help keep people in work and in their homes during the recession.

Share your story or get in touch with what you think can be done to support those in need by emailing rora@bigissue.com.

Image: Richard Leonard/Flickr.

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