Councils urged to keep up homeless support after fears help ‘fizzled out’

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  • May 26, 2020
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Councils have been urged to carry on helping rough sleepers into accommodation during the coronavirus outbreak after claims efforts and funding had “fizzled out”.

The government’s homelessness adviser Dame Louise Casey told local authorities not to “discriminate” against people seeking shelter and safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

She called for work to help people off the streets to continue until lockdown is lifted.

Rough sleepers are particularly vulnerable during the emergency ‘stay at home’ measures

Sky News has spoken to the charity Crisis, which helps homeless people.

The charity has warned the “get everyone in” drive to accommodate rough sleepers when coronavirus cases ballooned in the UK at the end of March was leaving some people without help.

Matt Downie, director of policy, said that in some local areas the drive to get people off the streets had “fizzled out”, with some councils just focused on supporting those already in hotels.

He added that some councils had “run out of money and energy to continue to make sure the job’s still done”, after exhausting the £3.2m funding from the UK government.

And Mr Downie warned some local authorities were also readopting tests that rough sleepers seeking help normally have to go through – such as proving a local connection to the area or lawful immigration status.

Speaking on Tuesday, Dame Louise said councils should be helping anyone who needs it.

Nearly 15,000 people have been helped into accommodation since the virus took hold in the UK

“Lockdown isn’t over,” said Dame Louise.

“The virus is still here and we haven’t found a vaccine. Until we’re able to organise for people who are street homeless and in communal night shelters, a way they can be safe, then actually the job isn’t done.

“The virus doesn’t choose whether you’re from Portugal or Kent, the virus doesn’t discriminate on that basis. Until we’re through that we’ve got to play by the book and make sure from a humanitarian perspective we’re being sensible.

“And if we think they are genuine long-term rough sleepers, we bring them in off the street.”

She added that 14,600 people have been helped into accommodation so far – of whom between 5,000 and 7,000 were sleeping rough before the pandemic.

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But in Westminster, one of the areas with the highest number of rough sleepers in England, the council leader has indicated help is in limited supply.

In a letter to stakeholders on 12 May, Rachael Robathan said: “The answer however, cannot simply be to spend more money on expensive accommodation and services within Westminster.

“Westminster will do its part, but this has to be a national effort.”

She added she had raised her “concerns” with the government about “the levels of funding” given to councils and “the need for a national effort” to help rough sleepers post-lockdown.