Coronavirus: Ministers ‘pull plug’ on pandemic help for homeless fund

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Thousands of people have been supported under the “Everyone In” scheme

The government will not extend funding to help rough sleepers in England stay off the streets amid the coronavirus pandemic, it has confirmed.

Councils were given £3.2m in March to provide emergency shelter for homeless people, with many housed in hotels.

The Manchester Evening News said a leaked report showed ministers had “quietly pulled the plug on the programme”.

But the government said it would not allocate any extra funding.

Instead, councils have been given £3.2bn to help with the additional costs of the pandemic, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said.

“Any suggestion that the government is reneging on the commitment set out at the start of this national emergency is entirely wrong,” the spokesperson added.

“We have been clear councils must continue to provide safe accommodation for those that need it.

“The latest figures show more than 90% of rough sleepers known to councils at the beginning of this crisis have now been made offers of safe accommodation under the ‘Everyone In’ scheme.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer said it was “simply wrong to send homeless people back onto the streets,” adding “the coronavirus crisis is far from over”.

“Right now they need emergency support. But after this crisis we can’t forget we all but ended rough sleeping overnight. We can end it for good,” he said.

Dame Louise Casey, who is responsible for the government’s Covid-19 rough sleeping response taskforce, told Radio 4’s PM programme “the money has not run out and isn’t running out”.

“No-one is going to be tipped out, that’s the key thing here, that would be reckless, irresponsible and wrong.”

Analysis

Michael Buchanan, BBC Social Affairs Correspondent

This scheme was seen as being hugely successful, almost, as one expert told me, ending rough sleeping overnight.

About 5,400 people had been given temporary accommodation and despite widespread fears about Covid-19’s impact on rough sleepers, the “Everyone In” scheme was credited with largely protecting the homeless.

It also allowed healthcare and addiction services in some cases to engage with people who had long refused any help.

The government is keen to highlight it increased funding to help rough sleepers before the pandemic and that just because it’s not extending this particular scheme, it remains committed to tackling a problem that has exploded in England since 2010.

But homeless charities will be closely watching what happens next. Why, they ask, end a scheme that was working, that was costing little more than a rounding error in the context of the overall costs of the pandemic? All eyes will now be on Louise Casey.

And while specific funding for England is ending, the governments in Scotland and Wales will continue to support their own rough sleeper schemes.

Homeless charity Crisis described the decision as “completely unacceptable.”

Its chief executive, Jon Sparkes, said: “There is still a deadly virus out there and, while it’s to be commended that over 5,400 people have been given safe temporary accommodation, the job simply isn’t finished.”

Polly Neate, chief executive of the housing and homelessness charity Shelter, added: “We cannot allow all the progress made or that safety net to be quietly stripped back now with councils left to pick up the pieces on their own.”

Dame Louise Casey will “spearhead” the next phase of government support for rough sleepers during the pandemic, the MHCLG spokesperson said.

“While councils continue to provide accommodation to those that need it, it is only responsible that we work with partners to ensure rough sleepers can move into long-term, safe accommodation once the immediate crisis is over.”

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