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Rough sleepers wary of seeking help after breakdown in trust, campaigners warn

A BREAKDOWN in trust with authorities has made rough sleepers wary of seeking help during the coronavirus pandemic, campaigners have warned.

The Labour Homelessness Campaign is calling on the government to get its act together helping Britain’s homeless population as the coronavirus crisis tightens its grip on the nation.

But it added that years of austerity — and the consequent loss of trust in the system — is making many rough sleepers reluctant to engage with authorities.

Campaign spokesman Tom Zagoria told the Star: “On the ground, we definitely see there are large segments of the rough-sleeping population who won’t engage with services because they don’t trust them.

“If you’re a rough sleeper whose only interaction with authority is being let down by overstretched and outsourced council services, and being moved on and threatened by police or council enforcement officers, why would you trust that government has your best interest at heart?”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak recently announced emergency funding of £3.2 million to aid rough sleepers during the pandemic, having previously pledged £492m for 2020 to 2021 to tackle the problem.

This is set to be part of a total fund of £643m aimed at addressing issues around rough sleeping nationwide over the coming four years.

Last month councils were also asked to put rough sleepers up in hotels to enable them to self-isolate during the coronavirus outbreak.

But the Labour Homelessness Campaign is calling for a longer-term re-evaluation of the government’s approach to rough sleeping in the wake of the pandemic.

Mr Zagoria said: “Hopefully this crisis, and the government’s proclamations, will feed a sense that homelessness is a political choice, and one we need to stop making.

“But I think there will only be a reassessment if we force a reassessment.”

During the recent Labour leadership election, campaigners called on candidates to pledge £1 billion per year to rebuild homelessness services.

Labour is also among the numerous organisations calling for the 1824 Vagrancy Act to be scrapped.

The act can see rough sleepers given fines for acts such as begging, and critics that the law effectively criminalises homelessness.

A government spokesperson said: “The vast majority of rough sleepers known to local authorities have now been made offers of safe accommodation — ensuring some of the most vulnerable in society are protected from the pandemic."

 

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