Treasury announces £85m for rough sleeper accommodation

People housed in hotels in England during the pandemic won’t have to return to streets

An extra £85m has been announced by the Treasury to provide emergency accommodation for 5,400 rough sleepers who have been placed in hotels in England for the duration of the pandemic, avoiding them having to return to the streets when the hotels reopen to the public this summer.

The extra money will allow councils to rehouse rough sleepers in student accommodation and to find alternative spaces elsewhere until more permanent housing is found.

Dame Louise Casey, the chair of the Covid-19 rough sleeping taskforce, said she was extremely relieved the extra money had been allocated, allowing charities and councils longer to work to find long-term housing for those rough sleepers who have been staying in Ibis, Holiday Inn and Travelodge hotels at the government’s expense since the end of March.

“This will make sure that local authorities and others don’t have to put people back out on the street. I think it would be, frankly, inhuman – because we’ve given people a taste of life off the street and a taste of life where you get your health looked after. The last think we want is for anyone to go back,” she said. The funding meant she could “guarantee” that nobody would have to leave to return to a life on the streets.

Securing the funding had “taken a little bit longer than I would have liked”, Casey said. “But now we can assure people that nobody goes back.”

While it was unrealistic to expect the country’s rough sleeping crisis to have been entirely solved during the pandemic period, she said progress was being made, although inevitably some people might make a choice to return to rough sleeping.

Casey also stressed the significance of having avoided known Covid-19 deaths among England’s homeless population.

“It’s a tiny, tiny silver lining but we protected these people as best we could from Covid-19, particularly when you compare it with what is happening in places like the United States,” she said, noting that in San Francisco about 75% of people living in the city’s shelters had tested positive, and that in New York more than 450 homeless people had died during the pandemic.

Casey said it had been a privilege to work on the unprecedented drive to get rough sleepers into hotels within the space of about three days as lockdown was announced in March. “It’s been absolutely great to give people the knowledge that there is another life off the street,” she said. She said it had inspiring to see the transformation of many people who had come into hotels “emaciated” and unwell.

The housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, said: “In recent months, I have seen a huge effort across the country to keep almost 15,000 vulnerable people off the streets. This has been vital to ensure their safety during the peak of the pandemic and has changed the lives of thousands for the better.

“The additional funding announced today will allow us to continue to support these individuals – giving them access to the accommodation and support they need now while we continue with plans to deliver thousands of long-term homes in the coming months.”

Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of Crisis, called the extra funding “a real step forward”, but added: “Money alone will not provide a guarantee of safe and secure accommodation during and after this public health crisis. We need emergency legal measures to ensure that every local council can provide housing support to everyone experiencing homelessness, regardless of their immigration status.

“Across the country, we know that support is patchy and inconsistent, with councils often uncertain who they should be helping, and in need of clarity and direction from government.”

Contributor

Amelia Gentleman

The GuardianTramp

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