Covid V Homeless – what Local Authorities and government did to help

Homeless rough sleepers in the street

Oldham hit the headlines this week as being the first local authority in the UK to prioritise Covid vaccinations for homeless people. Local authorities did a great job overall to get rough sleepers off the streets when lockdown took effect in March 2020. So what exactly did they do, and what’s the situation now almost a year later?

Everyone In

Back in late March 2020 the government pledged £3.2 million funding for local authorities  to help rough sleepers self-isolate. Admirable though it was, it’s an ongoing requirement almost a year later.

“Everyone In” ran from the end of March to May, when homeless people had to leave the hotel accommodation. It was never restarted for this winter lockdown as the government refused to continue funding it. However, the government has stated it will continue to house homeless people through various schemes. These are the responsibility of Local Authorities (councils).

In June, Local Government Partnerships published an update, summarising what had happened since then. You can view the PDF document here.

Local authorities did a remarkable job in 2020

Everyone In meant street dwellers were offered hotel accommodation. It was a major effort to help the helpless and it certainly made a difference.

Local Authorities are doing a great job in the face of lack of funds and out-of-control infection rates.

Greater Manchester reported many positive outcomes from the original Everyone In scheme, including ‘vast improvements in personal hygiene, re-connection with friends and family, access to health support and treatment’. Trying to match that without hotel accommodation is very difficult.

In November the UK’s 274 councils received £91.5m government funding to help with services for rough sleepers. There is also the £15m “Protect Programme” to shore up areas that need additional support most during the winter and lockdown.  The £10m Cold Weather Fund supports homeless shelters over the winter.

Councils are doing their best to find temporary accommodation for all homeless, including those evicted despite the current ban on evictions and those they had housed but subsequently evicted over behaviour issues.

Here is a typical report from one council, Southend-on-Sea

Is there a definition of ‘rough sleepers’?

Rough sleepers are considered to be anybody preparing to sleep the night in tents, crude makeshift shelters, in street doorways or in the open air.

What are the numbers like?

A snapshot of a single night in England in Autumn 2019 counted 4,266 people sleeping rough, of whom about 25% were in London. The majority were UK men aged over 26.

Why are rough sleepers so vulnerable?

They are an at-risk category for contracting and spreading Covid-19 because:

  • Self-isolation is almost impossible when living in derelict buildings, shelters or encampments
  • Many are mobile by nature making any attempt at even rudimentary track, trace and treatment almost impossible
  • Little or no availability of basic washing facilities or hygiene supplies – and mainly no access to health care services or treatment.
  • Chronic mental and physical health conditions abound, making decision making erratic. This is compounded in some individuals by any efforts at containing them.
  • Prevalence of substance abuse and needle sharing

Homelessness in the UK and who is working to remedy it

A collective term such as ‘the homeless’, ‘the elderly’ and ‘the disabled’ conceals the multitude of suffering, hopelessness and loneliness that people experience. Categorising them under an easy heading somehow makes it somebody else’s problem. It’s not. It’s the individual responsibility of each and every one of us to our bit to ease their plight.

Local Authorities (LAs) have the responsibility for social care in these areas but not the funding required todo it properly. Central government controls the purse strings and homelessness is a low priority, further down the list than feeding hungry children. With minimal funding, there’s no money in it for privatisation.

Prospects for homeless people

Living on the streets is not a choice that people consciously make. Yes, there are rare exceptions but the hardships literally kill people by shortening their lifespan. Death at 43-45 years of age for “rough sleepers” is the norm. You or I would do our damndest to avoid it but circumstances can turn against us as fast as a forest fire out of control. Once out there, you have no voice, no easy way back to normal life. Local authorities and charities are the first port of call but they have limited resources and facilities. You may be given a tent, if you are lucky.

It’s families and not just the individuals you see on the street

We are looking only at rough sleepers in this review, and not the 192,000 other homeless people in all manner of temporary accommodation, including  garden sheds.

“The worst forms of homelessness in England have been rising year-on-year, reaching a peak just before the pandemic when the numbers of homeless households jumped from 207,600 in 2018 to over 219,000 at the end of 2019.” – Crisis Dec 2020

That’s the number of households, not a count of human beings.

Core homelessness includes rough sleeping, people living in sheds, garages and other unconventional buildings, sofa surfing, hostels and unsuitable temporary accommodation such as B&Bs. This year the hostels category also includes emergency COVID accommodation that has been provided for people rough sleeping and at risk of rough sleeping during the pandemic.”

The big Covid downside for street people – they depend on you for donations

Social distancing means that people down on their luck are discouraged from street begging. Regardless of how you view this, it was both a means of financial support and a way of social contact with people who would stop and have a chat. Loneliness is the single biggest pain that street people mention.

See our previous article ‘The Worst Thing About Being Homeless? + Practical Things You Can Do To Help.’

Charities that focus on heling homeless families and individuals

First, be aware of StreetLink – it’s a contact point that liaises with councils in all areas of England and Wales. You can report a rough sleeper (over 18 only) to them as a first step. The police need to get involved for minors under 18.

Shelter has support groups for England & Scotland

St. Mungo’s London and South East

Centrepoint for young people in London, Manchester, Yorkshire and the North East and through partnerships all over the UK.

Crisis – nationwide services and help for homeless people

akt  – LGBTQ homelessness charity  (Albert Kennedy Trust)

The Big Issue runs its foundation and is very hands-on too

This is just a short list. There are many more charities and local activist groups too running shelters, soup kitchens and many other valuable services.