Local authorities will receive £10m in cold weather payments to help keep rough sleepers safe over the winter, the government has announced, with an additional £2m earmarked for faith and community groups to provide emergency accommodation.
The money is ‘on top of over half a billion pounds the government is already spending to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping this year alone’, says the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government.
Comprehensive guidance, produced in partnership with PHE, Homeless Link and Housing Justice, will also be issued to the homelessness sector to support shelters to open more safely, providing communal facilities only if there is no alternative. ‘As we approach winter, we are focusing on the best way to protect rough sleepers from the cold weather and coronavirus,’ said communities secretary Robert Jenrick. ‘The funding and guidance I’m announcing today will mean that working with councils and community groups, some of the most vulnerable people in society are given support and a safe place to stay this winter.’
Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes, however, stated that the money falls short ‘of the bold action we need’ to keep people safe. ‘Back in March the government rightly decided that night shelters and hostels were not a safe environment for people during the pandemic. It’s completely unacceptable that this approach should now change as we go into winter when the threat remains the same. We must not force people to choose between freezing on the street or a shelter, when both needlessly put lives at risk.’
The government needed to provide local authorities with the money to ensure everyone forced to sleep rough has access to safe, self-contained accommodation as happened in March, he stressed. ‘Anything but this is risking lives. We urgently need the government to see sense on this matter and keep winter night shelters closed.’
Crisis is one of 18 health and homelessness organisations – including the BMA and royal colleges of physicians, GPs and psychiatrists – to write an open letter urging the government to provide suitable alternative accommodation due to the high risk of COVID transmission in night shelters. ‘Housing is a social determinant of health; living on the streets or without a stable home makes you more vulnerable to physical illness, poor mental health and drug and alcohol problems,’ it says. ‘These health inequalities, with the added health impacts of coronavirus and the cold, mean that failing to protect people in unsafe living conditions over the winter months poses a grave risk to life and will place an enormous and avoidable pressure on the NHS.’
Read the open letter here.