The government has announced a new support package to help councils and charities keep rough sleepers safe from COVID-19 and cold weather this winter.
The core of the announcement is a £10 million Cold Winter Payment, which will help councils provide more self-contained accommodation for rough sleepers this winter.
Additional measures include a £2 million Transformation Fund to help voluntary and community groups offer additional accommodation to rough sleepers, along with guidance to the shelter sector to help winter night shelters open more safely.
The measures are designed to help councils with their existing plans to tackle homelessness this winter, alongside the £266 million Next Steps Accommodation Programme (NSAP) which the government launched this past summer.
Kelly Tolhurst, minister for housing and rough sleeping, said: “Winter is clearly a dangerous time for people who sleep rough.
“These extra measures will help to protect this vulnerable group from life-threatening cold weather, as well as the risk of contracting COVID-19, and also provide them with support into move-on accommodation.
“The work councils, providers, and the NHS has done since the start of the pandemic has saved lives and through this extra funding we will continue help them to rebuild their lives, part of our commitment to end rough sleeping for good.”
The NSAP, launched in July, made £105 million available to help councils provide rough sleepers with interim support and accommodation, and £161 million available to deliver 3,300 longer-term move-on accommodation units over the next 12 months.
The new guidance given to the shelter sector, produced in conjunction with Public Health England, Homeless Link and Housing Justice, provides new night shelter operating principles so shelters can reopen as safely as possible if they need to.
The guidance states that in order to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, communal facilities should only be provided as a last resort to save lives if self-contained sleeping spaces are not an option.
The new guidance comes after several charities and health bodies urged the Prime Minister Boris Johnson to prioritise the funding of self-contained accommodation last week, warning that traditional winter night shelters risk leading to a spike in cases of COVID-19.
Rick Henderson, chief executive of Homeless Link, comments: “People should not be facing a choice between the cold streets or an unsafe night shelter. Traditional night shelters should only open as a last resort if self-contained accommodation is not a possibility.
“We welcome the operating principles published today, which will help make shelters open as safely as possible if they do become a necessity. We ask that local areas adhere to these principles in order that people sleeping rough can be supported safely in line with COVID-19 guidance.”
The government’s Cold Weather Fund first launched in 2018. It is used to fund emergency accommodation to help get vulnerable people off the streets over the winter months.