THE government has taken the ‘unprecedented’ step of asking every local council in England to house all rough sleepers by the weekend, the homelessness charity Crisis has said.
The request, which also covers people in temporary accommodation like hostels and night shelters, is said to have been outlined in a letter sent yesterday from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to homelessness managers and rough sleeping co-ordinators in every English local authority.
The government has yet to confirm the move, which looks to be aimed at preventing the rapid spread of COVID-19 among the homeless community.
According to Crisis, MHCLG said in the letter: ‘As you know, this is a public health emergency. We are all redoubling our efforts to do what we possibly can at this stage to ensure that everybody is inside and safe by this weekend, and we stand with you in this.
‘These are unusual times so I’m asking for an unusual effort. Many areas of the country have already been able to “safe harbour” their people which is incredible. What we need to do now though is work out how we can get “everyone in”.’
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, called the government’s letter a ‘landmark moment’, expressing his belief that it is ‘the right thing to do’.
‘Questions remain about how local councils will be supported to do this, and whether additional funding, or assistance securing hotel rooms, will be made available,’ Sparkes said.
‘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.
‘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.’
Much of the temporary accommodation currently available to rough sleepers relies on the use of shared spaces such as bedrooms and kitchens, which are at risk of facilitating the spread of coronavirus.
Earlier this week, the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham announced urgent measures to house 1,000 rough sleepers in hotels for an initial 12 week period to help them self-isolate from COVID-19.
The Greater Manchester Combined Authority added that those staying in hotels will also be provided with ‘essential services’ such as food, access to medicines and targeted physical and mental health support.
Leeds City Council also announced that it has already secured additional emergency accommodation to support those in need.