With nowhere safe to stay and the facilities and services they depended upon closed down or more limited, people who are homeless or sleeping rough have experienced the pandemic in a very particular way, which has brought additional anxiety and disruption to their lives, writes Matt Harrison for Homeless Link.
StreetLink saw alerts increase from 6,465 in the six weeks before lockdown to 9,841 (52%) in the first six weeks of staying at home from 23 March, as people sleeping rough sought help, new people became homeless and public concern grew as a result of the virus. Towards the start of the lockdown however, the Government recognised the urgent need to protect those sleeping on our streets and instructed councils to bring ‘Everyone In’. The resulting effort over the following weeks saw 15,000 people who were sleeping rough or in insecure housing placed in emergency accommodation including hotels and B&Bs.
Thousands more people received ongoing support in hostels and other services to socially distance safely and cope with the changes that the Government brought in. Homelessness charity staff, classified as key workers, dedicated themselves to protecting the people they support, and found new ways of working, including offering support remotely, delivering meals to individuals and providing well-being activity packs.
The efforts of homelessness services nationwide, alongside decisive local and national government action has demonstrated that the right level of focus and investment can reduce rough sleeping. It has also paved the way for unprecedented local partnership working, community innovation and the successful engagement of individuals with complex needs for the first time. However, the emergency accommodation was only a temporary solution.
Homelessness professionals believe that we have a unique opportunity to build on this progress, providing sustainable accommodation solutions for all those housed through ‘Everyone In’, while supporting those newly at risk of homelessness. If we are to end rough sleeping for good, it will also be vital that we tackle the systemic factors causing homelessness in the first place, including the under-supply of affordable housing, health inequalities and a precarious welfare system.
As we move to the next phase of the response, and with hotels soon to reopen to the public, the Government has pledged to provide 6,000 new supported homes, with 3,300 made available in the next twelve months. Its rough sleeping taskforce is advising councils on plans to support rough sleepers into long-term, safe housing so that no one has to return to the streets. Where these long-term solutions are not yet in place, the Government is allocating £105 million to provide interim accommodation, helping people sleeping rough to secure their own tenancies as well as provide short-term accommodation.
Sadly, we know that new people have been and will be forced to sleep rough, many due to loss of income or a breakdown in family relationship as a result of the virus. These people may not be known to services, so please do continue to use StreetLink to send an alert when you see someone, so that we can connect them to local support as early as possible. This will be particularly important in the hot weather, when people’s health is just as much at risk as it is during freezing temperatures.
Having received a greater number of alerts and calls throughout the pandemic, the StreetLink team worked hard to ensure that people were connected with the local outreach team so that they could be referred into the emergency accommodation. We’ve also signposted people to other services that can help, checked to see whether they have any health concerns, including Covid, and continued to run our London advice line for people sleeping rough. We expect to be equally busy over the summer and we appreciate your support.
If we plan our next set of actions carefully and all work together to achieve them, we should see a significant leap in progress in our ambition to end rough sleeping once and for all.
Matt Harrison is the director of business and social enterprise at Homeless Link.