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Campaigners hold a socially distanced rally as they walk through East London.

Thousands set to die on the streets

Tom Zagoria, a member of the Labour Homelessness Campaign, looks at the developing humanitarian crisis among the homeless.

AS THE UK goes back into lockdown in the cold winter months, campaigners are warning that the Government’s refusal to fund a renewed “Everyone In” programme will lead to further spread of Covid-19, and an even worse homelessness crisis.

Even before Covid-19, homeless deaths were the highest on record, and the “Dying Homeless Coalition”, a group of more than 50 homelessness organisations, has said that without an urgent change of tack by the Government, there could be many more preventable deaths on the streets.

The first “Everyone In” announcement in March 2020 led to 29,000 people experiencing homelessness being accommodated in hotel rooms and other temporary housing. A UCL study showed that these measures prevented hundreds of deaths from Covid-19 – and as many of those housed were long-term rough sleepers, the measures could have been the first step in genuinely bringing Britain’s homelessness crisis to an end.

Crucially, the original “Everyone In” scheme provided for support to be given unconditionally, without the barriers that usually deny accommodation to migrants who are bound by “No Recourse to Public Funds” (NRPF), rough sleepers who can’t prove a local connection or don’t have valid ID, rough sleepers who have “refused support” or made themselves “intentionally homeless” (many of whom have histories of trauma and significant mental health conditions), and many single homeless people who are judged not to be in priority need.

Amid all the rhetoric that this represented a new turn in homelessness provision, the idea that the Government was genuinely committed to addressing the homelessness crisis was too much to hope for. While the Government’s line is that £700 million has been committed in homelessness funding to address Covid-19, analysis from the Museum of Homelessness shows that only £24 million of this is genuinely new funding. The rest is just repackaged, renamed and re-announced commitments from before the pandemic.

Before Covid-19, local authorities were already “overspending” their government-provided homelessness budget by £140 million every year, even as numbers on the streets continued to grow. Now they face a £10 billion gap in funding from the pandemic and lockdown, with no government funding for NRPF migrants and the Government apparently unwilling to renew its “Everyone In” commitments – despite the faster-spreading new variant of Covid-19 and the icy conditions.

Even without adequate funding, Local Authorities should be using all means at their disposal to prevent deaths on the streets. Local authorities such as Liverpool, Islington and Haringey have stepped up and said they will continue to bring “everyone in” even if the Government will not. In other local authorities, such as Westminster Council, homelessness volunteers report they are resorting to distributing cardboard to rough sleepers forced to stay outside as no accommodation is available. It is as yet unclear whether Tower Hamlets will re-run “Everyone In”.

Many of those originally accommodated last March have now returned to the streets, as the homeless hotels closed. With the eviction ban ending on Monday, despite half a million across the country being in rent arrears, the numbers of those experiencing homelessness could rocket. What was once spoken about as an opportunity for real, sustained action to address homelessness is now turning into a dire humanitarian crisis.

●For more information about the Labour Homelessness Campaign, go to:
Labour Homelessness Campaign

●Read more about it:
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