Forty charities are urging Boris Johnson to end the “patchy” help for homeless people during the coronavirus pandemic by passing an emergency law.
Crisis, St Mungo’s and the Big Issue Foundation are among the groups who have drawn up a bill they say would truly deliver on the government’s “everyone in” campaign to accommodate all rough sleepers in England, reports Sky News. They have criticised the “piecemeal, disjointed approach” taken by councils across the country and are worried about communal shelters remaining closed as winter and the threat of a second spike in covid-19 cases loom.
Bob Blackman, an influential Tory MP who pioneered the 2017 Homelessness Reduction Act from the backbenches is backing the call for a statutory duty to be put on local authorities to help any homeless person who needs it. Mr. Blackman is supporting the case of rough sleepers like Paul Jenkins, who – despite being given temporary accommodation in a hotel in Oxford – said the uncertainty about how long support may continue is causing him “uncertainty, anxiety and sleepless nights”.
Several tranches of funding have been offered to local authorities to foot the bills, but as lockdown restrictions are eased, charities are worried some people will just be left to return to the streets. The group of national and community organisations, which also include the Refugee Council and Law Centres Network, want Mr Johnson to introduce four changes to take immediate effect for a year:
- Make it a legal obligation for councils to provide everyone with nowhere safe to stay access to emergency accommodation backed by funding
- Suspend the “no recourse to public funds” restrictions so those locked out of applying for state aid can access benefits
- Stop residents being able to be evicted if they cannot pay rent due to the pandemic
- Suspend the benefit cap to prevent people becoming homeless if they cannot return to work.
Mr Blackman, who said the “everyone in” project has been a “marvellous achievement” but is fighting to make supporting the whole homeless population “a permanent position”. He told Sky News a “large number of Conservative MPs” want to make sure rough sleepers aren’t left behind before parliament breaks up for summer on 22 July. “We need legislation urgently before we reach that recess because otherwise people potentially could be turned out onto the streets again while parliament is not sitting,” he said. “That’s completely unacceptable and something we need to overcome.”
Given how swiftly the government got its planning bill through the Commons, he added there’s “absolutely no reason why this legislation could not be dealt with – all stages in one day, because I’m sure we’d get cross-party support”.
If it is not, “we’ll get a patchwork quilt, literally a postcode lottery of what action’s taken by different local authorities”, he warned.
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, also told Sky News: “Every day people are hit by the economic impact of coronavirus and, therefore, every day we don’t have this emergency legislation there’s the potential for more people to become homeless or end up rough sleeping… “It’s a very, very crowded political agenda – this government has many, many things on its plate as a consequence of coronavirus. But I think most people would agree that stopping people ending up in the very dangerous situation of rough sleeping is a very important thing to tackle.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said they were on track to help end rough sleeping permanently. They told Sky News: “Our rough sleeping taskforce has one overriding objective – to ensure as many people as possible who have been brought in off the streets in this pandemic do not return to sleeping rough. That’s why we’ve ensured councils across England can support vulnerable rough sleepers from EEA [European Economic Area] countries.”
“Councils are also able to provide emergency accommodation for foreign nationals where they are in the UK lawfully. The £105m, announced last week will mean councils are able to continue to provide safe accommodation to vulnerable rough sleepers, help break the cycle of homelessness, and continue our work to end rough sleeping for good.”