Homelessness charities call on governments to meet urgent need to protect rough sleepers

Leading homelessness charities have written to national and UK governments seeking urgent support for people facing homelessness to be able to protect themselves from COVID-19.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister Mark Drakeford and health secretary Matt Hancock, the organisations are calling for rough sleepers to be treated as a vulnerable group and given access to self-contained accommodation in order to self-isolate.

A full set of urgent measures are recommended to help ensure people facing homelessness are protected during this period.

The signatories include representatives from Crisis, Homeless Link, St Mungo’s, Centrepoint, The Passage, Groundswell, Shelter Cymru, Homeless Network Scotland, Connection at St Martin’s and Thames Reach.

The full text of the letter reads:

Dear Prime Minister,

As Chief Executives of leading homelessness charities, we appreciate the significant pressure the Government is facing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and stand ready to lend our support as you set out plans to help protect the most vulnerable in our society, including people who are facing homelessness.

People experiencing homelessness, particularly those who are rough sleeping, are especially vulnerable in this outbreak. They are three times more likely to experience a chronic health condition including asthma and COPD. It is therefore vital that they are recognised as a vulnerable group for the purposes of government planning.

We note the publication of Public Health England’s information on COVID-19 for hostel or day centre providers of services for people experiencing rough sleeping. We are concerned that these measures however, fail to provide the much more comprehensive plan and wide-ranging action needed to ensure that everyone facing homelessness is provided with self-contained accommodation, to ensure that they can self-isolate, and that people experiencing financial hardship are not left facing homelessness as a result of the impact of COVID-19.

Please find enclosed a full set of measures that we believe will help ensure people facing homelessness are protected during this period. As a matter of urgency, we are calling on governments to set out a plan, which will include detail on:

  • Assistance from the Government to secure hotel style accommodation to meet the increased need for self-contained accommodation so that people can self-isolate.
  • The removal of legal barriers in the homelessness legislation so that anyone who is at risk of, or is already homeless, can access self-contained accommodation. This should also include a suspension of rules that prevent people with no recourse to public funds from accessing housing and homelessness assistance.
  • The provision of additional financial support through the Universal Credit system to ensure that people are not pushed into homelessness.
  • Protecting renters from evictions by temporarily suspending the use of Section 21 and Section 8 evictions.
  • Increasing the fund for Discretionary Housing Payments to help renters facing homelessness.
  • Measures to ensure that people sleeping rough and living in hostels and shelter accommodation have rapid access to testing for the virus and healthcare assistance.
  • An assurance that frontline workers in homelessness organisations are recognised as an emergency service as part of the response to COVID-19.
  • A ringfenced proportion of the £5bn fund announced in the Budget last week to fight COVID-19 for local authorities to help deliver these measures.

In light of the speed of recent developments, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss with you and your officials as a matter of urgency how we can help to deliver this plan.

Yours sincerely,

Jon Sparkes, Crisis
Rick Henderson, Homeless Link
Howard Sinclair, St Mungo’s
Seyi Obakin, Centrepoint
Mick Clarke, The Passage
Steven Platts, Groundswell
John Puzey, Shelter Cymru
Margaret-Ann Brünjes, Homeless Network Scotland
Pam Orchard, Connection at St Martin’s
Bill Tidnam, Thames Reach

(cc. Rt. Hon. Nicola Sturgeon MSP, Rt Hon. Mark Drakeford AM, Rt Hon. Matt Hancock MP)

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