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THE government’s appeal to councils to house homeless people by this weekend is a “landmark moment” that proves ministers can end homelessness if they make it a priority, charities said today.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government wrote to local authorities calling for an “unusual effort” to make sure all homeless people are indoors during the coronavirus lockdown.
All homeless people should be rehoused, including those sleeping on the streets and in hostels and night shelters, the ministry said.
The letter, signed by Boris Johnson’s homelessness adviser Dame Louise Casey, was sent to homelessness managers and rough-sleeping co-ordinators at every local authority on Thursday.
She wrote: “It’s important for the welfare of both homeless people and staff or volunteers that all communal night shelters and any street encampments are closed down for the time being.
“These communal settings, as you will be aware, are high risk for spreading coronavirus.
“We know that this is not a perfect system, and in time we can take stock and work together to consider how best to continue this support for rough sleepers, but for now the priority is to ensure that everyone, all individuals across the country, have an offer to come inside.”
Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes described the letter as a “landmark moment.”
But he said questions remain about how local councils will be supported to do this and whether additional funding or help with 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,” Mr Sparkes said.
“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.”
He called for Downing Street to make sure that people do not return to sleeping rough when the coronavirus outbreak dies down.
Homeless Link chief executive Rick Henderson echoed Mr Sparkes’s concerns.
“What will be key in the coming months is that people brought in are not returned to the streets, but that the funding is in place to provide suitable housing and support to enable those rough sleeping to end their homelessness for good,” he said.
Labour’s shadow housing secretary John Healey welcomed the government’s push to house homeless people, but added that cash-strapped councils need help with this task.
“The government has pledged just £3.2 million for this work, which is simply not enough when local homelessness services have been cut by £1 billion a year and lost 9,000 beds since 2010,” he said.
A ministry spokesperson said that the plan was backed by £1.6bn of additional funding for councils to get homeless people into “appropriate accommodation.”
In Scotland, both Edinburgh and Glasgow councils are moving rough sleepers off streets and into hotels and repurposed student flats, using extra funding from the Scottish government.
But Shelter Scotland warned that the lockdown measures may inadvertently lead to the criminalisation of rough sleepers who have yet to find emergency accommodation.
The charity called on Holyrood to protect them from penalties and give accommodation to all regardless of immigration status.
In Wales, the devolved government has pledged £10 million to councils to help rough sleepers by block-booking B&B or hotel rooms, empty student accommodation and other premises.
Britain’s number of Covid-19 cases saw its sharpest increase today, jumping by 2,921 to 14,579. Deaths were up by 181 to a total of 759.
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