All rough sleepers in England should be found appropriate shelter by this weekend (local time), ministers have said, as the UK government grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s personal homelessness adviser has written to local authorities telling them “communal night-shelters and any street encampments” must be “closed down for the time being” as they are “high risk” for spreading COVID-19.
The email, which was sent to homelessness managers and rough sleeping co-ordinators in every local authority, is quoted by the charity Crisis as saying: “As you know, this is a public health emergency.
“We are all redoubling our efforts to do what we possibly can at this stage to ensure that everybody is inside and safe by this weekend, and we stand with you in this.
***BREAKING NEWS ****
📣 The Government has written to local authorities asking them to house everyone sleeping rough or in hostels and night shelters, by the weekend. But we must make sure people aren’t back on the street when this is all over
More info: https://t.co/cRa0IkF3RC
— Crisis (@crisis_uk) March 27, 2020
Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said: “The government’s insistence that everyone sleeping rough should be housed by the weekend is a landmark moment – and the right thing to do.
“Questions remain about how local councils will be supported to do this, and whether additional funding, or assistance securing hotel rooms, will be made available.
“We also need to see a package of support so that, when the outbreak subsides, the outcome is not that people return to the streets.
“The government has committed to ending rough sleeping by 2025 – this proves it can be done in 2020 if we make it the priority it deserves to be.”
To get “everyone in” by the weekend, Crisis says the government should launch a national appeal for accommodation, which would include empty apartment blocks and hotels.
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The Health and Social Care Committee of MPs, which met on Thursday (local time), heard concerns that some hotels were resistant to making rooms available for homeless people.
Conservative MP for Watford, Dean Russell, said his impression was that hotels are open to helping NHS workers and people in care but “fear there might be damage to rooms or related issues” if they help the homeless.
A Ministry spokesman said: “We are working intensively with councils and the sector to get everyone who is sleeping rough off the streets and into appropriate accommodation – backed by APS1.6 billion of additional funding for councils to respond to pressures during this national emergency.
The United Kingdom has recorded nearly 15,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with one third of the 246 related death reported in London.