Government Won't House Rough Sleepers During Covid Second Wave, Minister Suggests

"Everyone In" was announced by the government as a lifesaving measure in March. It is nowhere to be seen this winter.

The government has effectively confirmed that Everyone In won’t be repeated this winter, forcing thousands of England’s most vulnerable people to choose between risking Covid infection and freezing on the streets.

Days after lockdown came in in March, the government loudly announced a nationwide drive to get every rough sleeper into their own room in a hotel or another form of supported accommodation so they had space to lockdown.

But as the number of Covid-19 deaths continues to escalate through the second wave of the pandemic (595 were recorded on Wednesday alone, sending the total past 50,000) and as the temperature steadily drops toward freezing, thousands of rough sleepers are facing a winter with nowhere safe to go.

In an urgent question to the House of Commons, shadow housing secretary Thangam Debbonaire said the government’s current plan – which does not involve the reintroduction of Everyone In – provides “neither the leadership nor the funding” to ensure all rough sleepers have a Covid-secure place”.

Minister for rough sleeping and housing Kelly Tolhurst responded by referring only to past successes, with no commitment to any clear measures over the winter.

She said: “The government has set out unprecedented support for this issue, dedicating over £700m to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping alone this year.

“Our work on rough sleeping has not only been shown to be world-leading but also to have saved hundreds of lives. We are dedicated to continuing to protect vulnerable people into this period of restrictions and through the winter months.”

HuffPost UK believes that a significant portion of this funding – £433m, to be precise – is part of a long-term project to create 6,000 new supported homes for rough sleepers.

The government has said that 3,300 of these homes will be ready by March 2021, but a spokesperson from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) was unable to confirm at the end of October if physical work had begun on a single project.

Nor is it clear when the remaining 2,700 homes will be completed.

Tolhurst also pointed to the Protect Programme, announced by Boris Johnson last week, which provides the much lower figure of £15m to help ensure “that there is support in place for areas that need it most and which will address the housing and health challenges for rough sleepers during this period of national restrictions.

“This is on top of the £10m cold weather fund available to all councils to provide sleepers with safe accommodation over the coming months. This means all local areas will be eligible for support this winter.”

But as Debbonaire pointed out in her question, this £15m is only going to the 10 councils with the highest rough sleeping rates. The Bristol Labour MP has previously raised the fact that the cold weather fund – which includes a further £2m given to faith groups and organisations on the ground – is less than the £13m made available in 2019, before Covid had even been discovered.

Many of the UK’s leading housing and homelessness organisations have urged the government to repeat Everyone In – a move they say is vital to saving lives this winter.

Rough sleepers already suffer from significantly worse health than the general population, with charities warning that the usual crowded conditions in night shelters could prove fatal should an outbreak occur in communal facilities.

Responding to the government’s answer on Wednesday, Centrepoint’s head of public affairs Paul Noblet said: “During the first few days of the March lockdown the government acted quickly to ensure rough sleepers and those supporting them were safe, but since then the number of people sleeping on the streets has increased.

“Everyone In was the right response in the spring, and it is the right response now. To not follow through with the same level of funding risks undoing the good work of government, councils and charities over the past few months.

“Ministers have shown they want to support rough sleepers, but we need the Treasury to make their pledges a priority. Unless funding goes beyond piecemeal announcements there is a real chance that rough sleepers will remain at risk and that the government will miss its pledge to end rough sleeping by 2024.”


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