By Sophie Squire
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Tory measures not enough to protect homeless people

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The outbreak of Covid-19 is showing just how hard vital homelessness services have been hit by austerity.
Issue 2699
Many people are still sleeping rough weeks after Tories promised house them (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The outbreak of Covid-19 is showing just how hard vital homelessness services have been hit by austerity.

A number of charities said that despite some provisions being made, thousands of homeless people are “falling through the cracks”. 

The Tories wrote to every local authority in England on Thursday 26 March.

The government asked councils to house all people sleeping rough, those in hostels and night shelters by the end of that weekend.

But almost two weeks on there has been no definitive information about how councils should do this—and no injection of extra funding. 

Some people have been placed in accommodation, but many remain on the streets. They face extra harassment from police.


Night-time patrols by charities have been slashed as deserted streets are deemed unsafe and as workers get sick.

Some 464 homeless people in London were placed in self-contained accommodation two weeks ago, according to the London mayor’s office. But it estimates there are around a further 11,000 homeless people in the capital. 

And currently around 200 homeless people are reported to be sleeping in Heathrow airport terminals. 

Denell Dema, a supported housing worker in south London, said workers faced a challenge operating services with low levels of staffing and short supplies of food and medicine. 

“Before my shift I drive around all the supermarkets to see if there’s anything left,” she said. 

“I find two packets of pasta, but we’ve got 60 residents and it’s becoming a struggle to feed them.” 

A decade of Tory cuts have left a £1 billion “funding hole” in services for single homeless people.

And there are 8,755 fewer places in accommodation services than there were nine years ago, according to research by homelessness charity St. Mungos. 

Coronavirus also comes at a time of record levels of homelessness.

According to homeless charity Shelter, at least 135,000 children were homeless last Christmas—the highest in 12 years. 

Homeless people living on the streets are also finding that aid that they rely on has been drastically reduced due to the virus. 

“Traditional food projects for those experiencing homelessness rely on large public gatherings, soup-kitchen style handouts and unfortunately, they are no longer safe,” said Ben Richardson, Director of Bristol-based homelessness charity Caring. 

Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs at homeless charity Crisis UK, said, “We’ve had reports of people not eating for days now.

“People on the streets who haven’t made it into hotel accommodation are really struggling because the normal sources of food have gone.” 

For homeless people, the stakes could not be higher.

Even those housed in temporary accommodation remain at a higher risk of contracting the virus. 

It’s common for families to share one bedroom, and only have access to a communal bathroom and kitchen. 

Seyi Obakin, chief executive of youth homelessness charity Centrepoint, said, “We are facing an unprecedented homelessness crisis.”

Homeless more at risk 

Homeless people are particularly vulnerable to the virus. 

According to Pathway, an organisation that works on health care for the homeless, they are 2.5 times as likely to have asthma as the general population, and 34 times likelier to have tuberculosis.

These are conditions that often make Covid-19 fatal.

Homeless men have a life expectancy of 44, half the national average.

There are real worries that the latest moves to help homeless people are simply temporary measures. 

Homeless people fear that once the government decrees that the crisis has passed, then people will be turfed out from the accommodation where they have been placed.

A homelessness worker in Manchester told local media, “On the one hand I think why couldn’t we have mobilised the resources we now have before. On the other I wonder if it is just show for a short while.”

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