THE Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, has described the Government’s promise to extend support for rough-sleepers after the lockdown as “hugely welcome”.
“Churches and others who have been working with local authorities through the Everybody In scheme (announced as part of the Covid-19 response) have seen how lives can be turned round when the funds are there to bring in people off the streets and work alongside them,” he said in a statement. “This money will help us make such a damaging experience more rare and of shorter duration.”
Campaigners had been fearful that thousands of people could be returned to the streets once contracts between local authorities and hotels to house rough-sleepers came to an end next month. The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said on Wednesday, however, that it would provide £105 million to help those in need secure tenancies. A further £16 million has been brought forward to help address substance misuse.
Last month, the Government stated that it would make 3300 homes available within 12 months to those currently in emergency accommodation as a result of the pandemic. The MHCLG said that £160 million of their £381-million budget for the next four years was being brought forward. Campaigners, however, have called for more details to be released about the proposals, voicing concerns that vulnerable people who have been made newly homeless could still fall through the gaps.
In May, a report was leaked by civil servants from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority that suggested that the Government was planning to scrap funding for keeping rough-sleepers in emergency accommodation, known as the “Everyone In” scheme. Although no ministerial statement was made, the report set out the possibility of rough-sleepers’ soon being moved out of the extensive network of hotels.
The Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, called for clarity over the issue, saying that local authorities had been told to move 800 people in Manchester out of hotels, despite not having the funds to move them into long-term accommodation. He described it as “an extremely challenging task to deliver”.
Dr Walker agreed, posting a message on Twitter on 17 May: “Like Andy, I’m really struggling to understand the logic that the 500 (plus) people across Greater Manchester who just happened to have a sofa or something to sleep on for the first night of lockdown have no need for government funds to get them off the streets and into a hotel now.”
The MHCLG responded: “We have been clear [that] councils should continue to provide safe accommodation for those who need it, and any suggestion that funding is being withdrawn or people asked to leave hotels by central government is entirely incorrect.”
It continued: “The latest figures show over 90% of rough-sleepers known to councils at the beginning of this crisis have now been made offers of safe accommodation.”
Dame Louise Casey, who chairs the Rough Sleeping Covid-19 Response Taskforce, also announced last month that, as well as the £160 million for local authorities to spend on permanent homes for the homeless, £53 million will be spent on support services.
The most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in 2018 there were 726 reported deaths among the homeless in England and Wales: a 22 per cent increase since 2013. A housing worker who chose not to be named explained how the cyclical nature of funding for rough sleeping had helped to exacerbate this. “It’s history repeating itself. If schemes for the homeless had been properly funded for the last few years, this could have been avoided. Even if we get given the funding now, the chances of it being taken away again are high.
“The first rough-sleeping initiative, led by Dame Louise Casey, was very successful, but, after that, the funding was cut. During the pandemic, the Government said they wanted the council to house everyone overnight, which is easier said than done. How are you meant to house people who have been rough-sleeping for decades? There will be a ton of evictions at the end of this, and any funds for dealing with it have been very unequally divided.
“The Greater London Authority have done well. When the pandemic started, there wasn’t much guidance from central government, but they put people in two different hotels: one for people that have Covid-19, and one for people who are just homeless and have low-level needs.
“As a result, councils have had more space to house high-needs people the hotels will not take, such as people addicted to drugs or who won’t share with others. But what are we meant to do with those people now? How will any funding be divided? Where will these new homes be? It all feels like a bit of a panic.”
From 27 March, all possession claims have been suspended for three months. The housing worker also highlighted, however, how the limited government support for tenants, providing non-statutory guidance instead of legislation, has meant that landlords can still evict people who are in arrears with their rent. Some are citing the need to prevent Covid-19 from spreading as an excuse to evict people.
“The idea that evictions have been frozen is nonsense. The three-month period of ‘no evictions’ only works if you have a shorthold tenancy — there’s no protection if you’re a lodger. Councils have seen lodgers lose their jobs, and that’s led to a rise in rough-sleepers.”
The assistant director of homelessness services at the Salvation Army, Malcolm Page, said: “This is the biggest opportunity to change the lives of rough-sleepers in a generation; but, while we welcome this one-off year of funding, it is not enough to end homelessness.
“We are calling on the Government to seize this opportunity and launch a ten-year plan to tackle the root causes of homelessness. People have many complex reasons why they sleep rough, and needing a roof over their heads is just one part of it.
“Any investment in housing also needs sustained funding so councils can provide long-term wrap-around support for people to deal with the reasons they ended up on the streets, which often include poor mental health, fleeing domestic violence, childhood trauma, or addictions. We must also plan to avoid a new generation of people falling into a homeless spiral as a direct result of the coronavirus.”
The Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Revd Christopher Foster, raised the issue in a House of Lords debate last month, asking in response to a statement on Covid-19 whether “withdrawing dedicated funding risks undermining all that has been achieved in providing housing as a first step towards the homeless having homes?”
The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, also asked in the Lords last month: “What plans do Her Majesty’s Government have to create multi-agency partnerships to create an integrated homelessness system?”
Similarly, the Dean of Chelmsford, the Very Revd Nicholas Henshall, wrote in a blog post for ViaMedia: “The things I do not want to go back to have little to do with the details of cathedral or church life. Number one is homelessness. It is extremely moving to see one of our most extreme local heroin addicts in her right mind because she is now receiving proper accommodation, assessment, and care. St Mungo’s charity challenges us to embrace this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revolutionise care for rough-sleepers. No going back.”