Rough sleeper charities call for government help to maintain Covid programme success

Rough sleeper charities call for government help to maintain Covid programme success

Leaders of two of London’s leading street homeless charities have called on the government to maintain the unprecedented financial support that enabled most of the capital’s rough sleepers to be housed and helped during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.

Steve Douglas, Chief Executive of St Mungo’s, told the BBC’s Politics London that government funding for the radical “everyone in” effort launched at the start of the lockdown period has enabled “fantastic” results, but that as the scheme comes to an end it was already apparent that “people are back on the streets”.

On the same programme, Crisis Director of Policy Matt Downie described the scale of the achievement in getting rough sleepers under roofs, largely hotels, as “remarkable” and also “a sobering reminder that we can set our minds to doing that scale of intervention and be that successful in reducing homelessness any time we like, and we don’t have to wait for a pandemic.”

The government has allocated London, where rough sleeping is most common, a further £43 million in “interim support” out of a national total of £105 million announced in June.

Douglas (pictured) described this money as “extremely welcome” and “a significant contribution” towards providing “an immediate response to the pandemic”. He also commended the speed with which it has been distributed and stressed the value of it being both for suitable housing and for “revenue support for mental health, for alcohol, for drugs, that type of support. We need both of those going forward”.

However, Douglas also warned that with the government’s furlough scheme winding down, the extended temporary ban on evictions coming to an end and the economy faltering “we can reasonably expect that there will be an increase” in London’s rough sleeper numbers.

He said St Mungo’s is asking the government to use its forthcoming spending review to restore to local authorities the funding for rough sleeper services they estimate has been taken from them over the past ten years. ‘They are hard-pressed, they are having to struggle with budget cuts,” he said.

Downie said, “Local councils are saying to us, can you help get the message across to government that without a re-emergence of that funding for more hotels and for other forms of accommodation and housing, a disaster is about to occur”.

The charity leaders’ calls for sustained investment were echoed by Sadiq Khan’s Deputy Mayor for Housing, Tom Copley, who said: “If we see a big spike in homelessness over winter, particularly as a result of the economic downturn, we’re going to need significantly increased funding from the government. It would be a real shame if the work that was done during this pandemic, which was world-leading in London, to get people into hotel to self-isolate, was undermined over the winter because the government doesn’t invest”.

Mayor Khan and London Councils chair Peter John wrote to communities secretary Robert Jenrick earlier this month, urging him to help with immediate action to help boroughs and charities prepare for winter.

The “everyone in” scheme saw 300 hotel rooms made available in Westminster alone, where much of London’s roughing sleeping occurs, and over 1,000 people accommodated altogether. Nearly all of these have now closed to rough sleepers, with many of their former guests moving on to private rented sector dwellings, with some still benefiting from ongoing close support with substance abuse and mental health problems from charity workers.

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