IT WAS A CASE OF too little, let’s hope it’s not too late as Prime Minister Boris Johnson and London Mayor Sadiq Khan joined forces with the Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) to make 300 hotels room available to homeless people.
The initiative has to be welcomed. The rooms are being made available so that rough sleepers can “self-isolate in some degree of comfort, with hand washing facilities, for the next twelve weeks. Rough sleepers have a higher incidence of health problems, including respiratory problems, so many will need the opportunity to avoid contact with other humans.
The London Mayor asked homeless charities he has funded to nominate rough sleepers to move in this weekend, to pilot the scheme. Over the coming days, Khan will be trying to find more rough sleepers for the remaining rooms.
A range of people from the three partners have come forward with soundbites explaining what a good idea they believe they have had.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan: “Rough sleepers already face difficult and uncertain lives and I’m determined to do all I can to ensure they, along with all Londoners, are given the best protection possible.”
Secretary of State for Housing, Robert Jenrick MP, said, “…my officials will be working very closely with the GLA to ensure that rough sleepers get the support they need to remain safe and secure at this difficult time.”
The Prime Minister’s Rough Sleeping Adviser, Dame Louise Casey, came up with this important advice: “It is so important that we properly support all vulnerable during this difficult time including people that are sleeping rough.” It’s good to know that the PM’s getting incisive advice at this difficult time, without the bother of too many nouns. Karan Khanna, UK MD of the IHG, also spoke of his pleasure at the project.
Are there any down sides? There are only 300 rooms in the scheme – although there are thought to be up to 10,000 rough sleepers in London, around a quarter of the number in the whole UK. That’s a problem – though Sadiq Khan has hinted that the scheme could be extended.
All three parties are sharing the costs of the scheme: Khan and Johnson by funding the scheme, and the IHG by discounting the room charges. As the IHG is likely to have trouble filling its rooms at the moment, with the UK population advised to stay at home and international travel grinding to a halt, this must be a welcome injection of public money for IHG – which may disappoint taxpayers.
Perhaps the starkest eye-opener provoked by this news is just how little effort it would take to solve London’s rough sleeping problem. Just 10,000 units of accommodation would be needed. Why has it taken this major health crisis for the authorities finally to find a way of accommodating rough sleepers? Do the authorities really have the best interests of rough sleepers at heart – or are they just trying to push a group of potential carriers of the virus not under the carpet, but at least into a hotel room?