The housing secretary Robert Jenrick has announced a new £15 million programme to protect rough sleepers from COVID-19 over the winter.
The Protect Programme, which will run until March 2021, will help areas that need additional funding to support rough sleepers during the new national lockdown introduced this week and through the winter months.
Areas with high numbers of rough sleepers will receive targeted support to provide accommodation to people currently sleeping rough, with those who are ‘clinically vulnerable’ set to be prioritised, the government has said.
The 10 areas set to receive the most funding under the scheme are London; Bristol; Brighton and Hove; Cornwall; Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole; Manchester; Salford; Oxford; Leicester; and Birmingham.
The scheme builds on the success of the national Everyone In campaign, which has so far seen over 29,000 people brought into emergency accommodation or settled accommodation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The housing secretary Robert Jenrick said: “At the start of the pandemic we launched Everyone In, which protected thousands of vulnerable people. That work hasn’t stopped and we’ve backed it with £700 million.
“As the new national measures come into force, I am launching the Protect Programme to ensure councils are offering everyone sleeping rough on our streets today somewhere safe to go – protecting people from the virus and moving forward with our goal of eliminating rough sleeping.”
The government has already committed over £700 million of government funding this year in a bid to end rough sleeping.
This includes over £150 million to bring forward over 3,300 long-term homes for rough sleepers and vulnerable people, and the £91.5 million allocated to councils in September to fund their individual plans for rough sleepers.
Last month the government also announced its £10 million Cold Weather Payment to help councils provide more self-contained accommodation for rough sleepers this winter.
The launch of the Protect Programme has been welcomed by local authorities, charities, and housing associations who have recently called for a second Everyone In scheme.
However, they stressed that further government measures will be needed to tackle the root cause of homelessness, such as long-term funding for council services and greater investment in new social homes.
Responding to the announcement, Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “With England now in lockdown and the cold weather creeping in, it’s positive to see the Westminster government providing additional funding through the Protect Programme to support people rough sleeping this winter, and to keep renters in their homes.
“But let’s be clear, this funding for 10 areas of the country isn’t nearly as extensive as what we saw in March, yet the threat from the virus remains the same. We also know the money will run out quickly and that council resources will be under pressure to ensure that they can prevent homelessness and support everyone who needs it into safe accommodation.
“We must not leave people exposed to the virus and the streets. With thousands of people having already been supported into more permanent accommodation, we must build on this progress and ensure that everyone helped through this scheme will have a permanent place to call home when this emergency is over.”
Cllr James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA), commented: “As we enter this second national lockdown, councils will continue to do everything they can to accommodate new rough sleepers during the winter as well as support those already off the streets into safe, long-term accommodation with the appropriate support.
“Councils are stepping up to this huge ongoing challenge and this funding is good news. It will boost local efforts to try and find safe, self-contained accommodation available to all those who need it over the winter.”
The LGA has also called on the government to remove the ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition which prevents migrants from accessing welfare benefits, saying this would ease the pressure on homelessness services.