The government has found £3.2m to help rough sleepers through the COVID-19 outbreak – having stuck by a ‘business as usual’ stance since concerns were first raised by charities.
The funding will be available to all local authorities in England and will reimburse them for the cost of providing accommodation and services to those sleeping on the streets to help them successfully self-isolate.
MHCLG says the sum is in addition to the £492m committed in 2020/2021 to support the government’s ambition to end rough sleeping in this Parliament, a £124m increase in funding from the previous year – forming part of £643m in funding to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over the next four years.
“We are working closely with councils and charities to ensure they have the support they need – the initial funding will ensure councils are able to put emergency measures in place to help some of the most vulnerable people in our society to successfully self-isolate,” said Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick.
“I would urge anyone who is concerned about someone sleeping rough to use the government’s StreetLink app to alert local support services who can reach out to those in need at this difficult time.”
The initial emergency funding is said to represent an initial first step to help local authorities and frontline services put emergency measures in place – with the government continuing to work closely with councils to keep this under review.
Public Health England (PHE) has also released guidance for providers of hostels and day centres on how to handle suspected cases of Coronavirus to assist staff and visitors in dealing with the impact of the virus.
The guidance outlines:
- What centres and hostels should do if they have had a confirmed case
- Use of shared spaces – such as kitchens and bathrooms – where individuals who live with others are required to self isolate
- What to do if anyone becomes unwell on site with the symptoms
- Special considerations for residents and users, who are drug or alcohol users and may be more vulnerable to the effects of the virus
- Guidance on cleaning and disinfection and rubbish disposal
“People sleeping rough are often in poor health and are particularly vulnerable.
“That’s why this funding is so important, ensuring that rough sleepers who get symptoms have somewhere safe and protective to stay, and helping to prevent the spread of the infection,” said Dr Yvonne Doyle, PHE medical director.
Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes recognised the cash injection as an important step but said leaving each local council to decide how they respond was a “piecemeal and insufficient” approach.
“What we really need is a coordinated plan from national Government to ensure people experiencing homelessness have immediate access to appropriate housing during this outbreak.
“We also need to see a cross-Government effort to prevent soaring levels of homelessness in the wake of COVID-19 – this should include a ban on evictions and additional financial support through the Universal Credit system.
“Last month, the Government appointed Dame Louise Casey as their rough sleeping tsar, starting after Easter – we urge them to bring this appointment forward so that she can lead the robust response needed,” he said.
Cllr Ian Hudspeth, Chairman of the LGA Wellbeing Board, said public health, housing and social care teams will continue to work together to identify local solutions for rough sleepers most at risk.
“But homelessness services remain under huge pressure as a result of rising demand driven by a historic shortage of social housing,” he said.
Rick Henderson, CEO of Homeless Link, comments: “We are pleased that the Government has heeded calls from the homelessness sector and acted to ensure that people sleeping rough or in night shelters are supported to self-isolate effectively. The lack of available accommodation or safe spaces was previously a huge concern.
“We urge local areas to establish a taskforce of voluntary sector and grassroots groups that can take swift and coordinated action, setting up an effective protocol for supporting their most vulnerable people and directing the money to where it is needed most, according to local context.
“Further initiatives are needed to ensure that people – whether homeless on the streets, in hostels and shelters, or using day centres – are able to self-isolate, and to access testing and treatment should their condition deteriorate.”