Government aims to house all rough sleepers by the weekend

The unprecedented move comes amid growing pressure from homeless charities to do more for rough sleepers.

Man sleeping rough in a doorway

The government has written to local authorities in England asking them to house all people sleeping rough, and those in hostels and night shelters, by the weekend.

In a letter sent to homelessness managers and rough-sleeping coordinators in every local authority yesterday, the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government said: “As you know, this is a public health emergency. We are all redoubling our efforts to do what we possibly can at this stage to ensure that everybody is inside and safe by this weekend, and we stand with you in this.

“These are unusual times, so I’m asking for an unusual effort. Many areas of the country have already been able to ‘safe harbour’ their people, which is incredible. What we need to do now though is work out how we can get ‘everyone in’.”

The move comes amid growing pressure from homeless charities to do more for rough sleepers.

Previously, the government had provided £3.2m in funding, which groups said was not enough to deal with the impact Coronavirus would have on homeless people.

Extra funding was soon announced, but the homelessness sector was still calling for government to provide them with “clear guidance”.

This latest moves marks a massive shift.

Responding to this news, Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “The government’s insistence that everyone sleeping rough should be housed by the weekend is a landmark moment – and the right thing to do.

“Questions remain about how local councils will be supported to do this, and whether additional funding, or assistance securing hotel rooms, will be made available.

“We also need to see a package of support so that, when the outbreak subsides, the outcome is not that people return to the streets.

“The government has committed to ending rough sleeping by 2025 – this proves it can be done in 2020 if we make it the priority it deserves to be.”

Cllr James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Councils have been working hard to identify rough sleepers and homeless people, get them off the streets and into suitable accommodation and help protect them from the coronavirus.

“This will be a huge task given the shortage of accommodation available with many councils now affected by the recent closures of hotels and the difficulties some have faced where rough sleepers refuse to engage or take up the offer of help.

“To help these efforts, some councils will need to call on the Government for urgent help to find accommodation and enforce this and have access to funding if they need to cover staffing and support costs.”

This afternoon, Luke Hall, MHCLG Minister for Local Government and Homelessness sent out a letter to all councils in England, updating them on plans to protect rough sleepers during the Coronavirus crisis.

He said: “Our strategy must be to bring in those on the streets to protect their health and stop wider transmission, particularly in hot spot areas, and those in assessment centres and shelters that are unable to comply with social distancing advice.

“This approach aims to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on people facing homelessness and ultimately on preventing deaths during this public-health emergency.

“Given the nature of the emergency, the priority is to ensure that the NHS and medical services are able to cope and, we have built this strategy based on NHS medical guidance and support.”

In his letter, Hall outlined the aim of the basic principles:

  • To focus on people who are, or are at risk of, sleeping rough, and those who are in accommodation where it is difficult to self-isolate, such as shelters and assessment centres
  • To make sure that these people have access to the facilities that enable them to adhere to public health guidance on hygiene or isolation, ideally single room facilities
  • To utilise alternative powers and funding to assist those with no recourse to public funds who require shelter and other forms of support due to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • To mitigate their own risk of infection, and transmission to others, by ensuring they are able to self-isolate as appropriate in line with public health guidance

He added that the aims of these principles should be achieved by undertaking the following programme of actions:

1. Convening a local coordination cell to plan and manage your response to COVID and rough sleeping involving the local authority (housing, social care and public health) and local NHS partners together

2. Seeking to stop homeless people from congregating in facilities such as day centres and street encampments where there is a higher risk of transmission

3. Urgently procuring accommodation for people on the streets if you have not already done so – MHCLG will support you to do so if you are struggling to procure sufficient units

4. Triaging people where possible into three cohorts driven by medical advice:

  • Those with symptoms of COVID-19
  • Those with pre-existing conditions but without symptoms
  • Those without any of the above

5. Getting the social care basics such as food, and clinician care to people who need it in the self-contained accommodation

6. If possible, separating people who have significant drug and alcohol needs from those who do not

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