Back in March, at the start of the pandemic, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government – and in particular housing secretary Robert Jenrick and the new homelessness tsar Louise Casey – acted swiftly and offered accommodation to 90 per cent of rough sleepers and those in night shelters. The government said they managed to find accommodation, primarily in hotels, for almost 15,000 people.
To date, many of these rough sleepers have now been found more permanent accommodation. However, with the end of the furlough scheme looming and only a stay of execution on the eviction ban, there is a risk that the swift action of late March could be undone. Recent figures released by the Greater London Authority show a year-on-year increase in street homelessness of 33 per cent in the quarter ending 30 June 2020. Of the 4,227 individuals identified by outreach teams in London alone, 63 per cent were sleeping rough for the first time.
As winter approaches and with the infection rate on the increase, the government needs to take urgent action. Following the loss of Casey as homelessness tsar, Kelly Tolhurst, the new homelessness minister, has a lot of work ahead in her new brief.
While the government has given councils an extra £105m to provide accommodation for those in need, it is imperative they find a replacement for the homelessness tsar. Further, they should consider rolling out the innovative Housing First programme currently being piloted in Liverpool, Manchester and the West Midlands.
This bold roadmap to solve the homeless crisis was initiated by former civil society minister Brooks Newmark in the 2017 Centre for Social Justice report ‘Housing First: Housing-led Solutions for Rough Sleeping and Homelessness’. Its idea is that the best way to solve homelessness is to help people find their own home, giving them support, a sense of wellbeing, and confidence.
If the government is to achieve its goal of eradicating homelessness, it needs to maintain the political will shown at the beginning of this pandemic.