Councils asked by the Government to support rough sleepers and other vulnerable homeless into accommodation by the end of the week.
On Thursday local authority leaders across the country received a letter from Luke Hall, MP, Minister for Local Government and Homelessness, thanking them for their continuing work in response to the Covid-19 crisis. The letter also issued a challenge — to house all rough sleepers other vulnerable homeless people into accommodation by the end of the week.
In his letter the Minister said: ‘It is our joint responsibility to safeguard as many homeless people as we can from COVID-19. Our strategy must be to bring in those on the streets to protect their health and stop wider transmission, particularly in hot spot areas, and those in assessment centres and shelters that are unable to comply with social distancing advice. This approach aims to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on people facing homelessness and ultimately on preventing deaths during this public health emergency. Given the nature of the emergency, the priority is to ensure that the NHS and medical services are able to cope and we have built this strategy based on NHS medical guidance and support.’
The letter outlined the basic principles of the strategy as follows:
• Focus on people who are, or are at risk of, sleeping rough, and those who are in accommodation where it is difficult to self-isolate, such as shelters and assessment centres
• Make sure that these people have access to the facilities that enable them to adhere to public health guidance on hygiene or isolation, ideally single room facilities
• Utilise alternative powers and funding to assist those with no recourse to public funds who require shelter and other forms of support due to the COVID-19 pandemic
• Mitigate their own risk of infection, and transmission to others, by ensuring they are able to self-isolate as appropriate in line with public health guidance
In the letter the Minister for Local Government and Homelessness says this should be done by taking the following programme of actions:
1. Convening a local coordination cell to plan and manage your response to COVID and rough sleeping involving the local authority (housing, social care and public health) and local NHS partners together. This would then report in to wider local COVID structures.
2. Seeking to stop homeless people from congregating in facilities such as day centres and street encampments where there is a higher risk of transmission
3. Urgently procuring accommodation for people on the streets if you have not already done so — MHCLG will support you to do so if you are struggling to procure sufficient units
4. Triaging people where possible into three cohorts driven by medical advice:
• Those with symptoms of COVID-19;
• Those with pre-existing conditions but without symptoms; and
• Those without any of the above.
5. Getting the social care basics such as food, and clinician care to people who need it in the self-contained accommodation. It is likely that you will need to utilise your commissioned homeless services to provide support to people in this accommodation and we urge you to work with the commissioned and non-commissioned sector to make sure there are adequate levels of support provided.
6. If possible, separating people who have significant drug and alcohol needs from those who do not. In the longer term it will of course be necessary to identifying step-down arrangements for the future, including the re-opening of shelter-type accommodation. Given the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday night that the public should be staying in their homes wherever possible, it is now imperative that rough sleepers and other vulnerable homeless are supported into appropriate accommodation by the end of the week.
Responding to the announcement by government that councils have been asked to support rough sleepers and other vulnerable homeless into accommodation by the end of the week, Cllr James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Councils have been working hard to identify rough sleepers and homeless people, get them off the streets and into suitable accommodation and help protect them from the coronavirus.
“This will be a huge task given the shortage of accommodation available with many councils now affected by the recent closures of hotels and the difficulties some have faced where rough sleepers refuse to engage or take up the offer of help.
“To help these efforts, some councils will need to call on the Government for urgent help to find accommodation and enforce this and have access to funding if they need to cover staffing and support costs.”
Committed to collaboraton
Cllr Giles Archibald, Better Lives Portfolio Lead for the District Councils’ Network, added: “District councils very much welcome the Government’s plans for tackling the COVID-19 crisis and are keen to partner with other tiers of local government to implement the plans.
“We are committed to collaborating with partner organisations to end rough sleeping and district councils are playing a key role in identifying homeless people in need of support and accommodation during the coronavirus crisis.
“It will be a mammoth challenge to house all rough sleepers by the weekend and district councils are in contact with local hotels and B&B accommodation that are still open to achieve this. We fully intend to work to achieve the goal set by central government.
“Everyone deserves a safe and affordable home, but especially during times of crisis. To help this goal, there need to be more affordable housing, reforms to welfare and the coordination of multiple services, such as health, employment and justice.”
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