It’s not outlandish to say that rough sleeping ended during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, it is only a temporary end. Let’s find out more about the situation homeless people will return to when current measures finish.
During the Coronavirus lockdown, rough sleeping ended in the UK. The UK Government understood that having people sleeping rough on the streets could add to the spread of the virus, possibly proving fatal to the homeless people themselves and anyone they came into contact with. So, they gave billions of pounds to local councils to house them. More than 14,000 homeless people left the streets and hostels, moving into requisitioned hotels, bed and breakfasts and other temporary accommodation.
However, all good things come to an end. The effects of the Coronavirus are now lessening and we are gradually moving out of lockdown. These hotels and B&Bs will soon be able to open to paying guests, leaving homeless people to find other arrangements. Many may find themselves having to return to the streets.
In this article, we’ll look more about what’s next for homeless people after the COVID-19 outbreak. Is there a better life ahead, or will the scourge of homelessness continue? What can be done?
Benefits of accommodation
Being able to leave the streets, even only temporarily, has led to enormous benefits for many homeless people. Many have used this time as an opportunity to change their situations, applying for jobs and getting themselves off drugs. Coronavirus has been like a blessing in disguise, giving people a taste of what it is like to have a home:
- Safety – away from drugs and crime
- Health – protection from the virus, better nutrition, sleep
- Dignity – away from the stigma of homelessness and public disdain
Homeless people have also had access to support workers who can help them improve their lives.
Back to the streets?
The issue is that the UK Government, that had previously taken control of the situation when the pandemic began, is now shifting responsibility for homeless people back to individual local authorities. This is on the basis that they continue to provide safe accommodation to homeless people in their area – authorities have to submit detailed plans to the government. Additionally, the government has set up a Rough Sleeper Taskforce to ensure nobody is forced back to the unsafe streets.
Having to return to the streets, or even back into temporary accommodation such as hostels that were also closed because people could not socially distance in them, would be a disaster. The streets are unsafe; homeless people are often victims of attack. They are susceptible to becoming dependent on drugs or alcohol. Homeless people suffer from poor physical and mental health.
However, without the huge budget to help, it is difficult to see what local authorities can do at such short notice. From July 4th, when hotels can legally reopen, will we see an influx of homeless people back to the streets? COVID-19 has diminished, but it has not disappeared, and homeless people are more at risk than anyone. Can something else be done?
A new generation of homeless people?
Another issue is that the economy has taken a significant hit because of Coronavirus. Many people have not been able to work and earn money. Once the government’s support schemes end, people may find they no longer have jobs. It is expected that there will be an economic downturn as a result of COVID-19.
If the economy crashes, there may be a new generation of homeless people created. We are already at record numbers of homeless people in the UK, but the situation may get worse.
It is clear that there needs to be a long-term strategy to end the scourge of homelessness. If anything, we have proved that we can do it, we just need to do it permanently. Central to this strategy should be the provision of affordable homes. We need to get homeless people out of temporary accommodation and into permanent homes that they can reasonably afford. These homes could be provided by the local authority or through private rental – but, these are homes, not stop-gaps.
Once in a permanent home, these formerly homeless people can start to build a new life. They can access doctors and take their children to school. They have safety and security, but perhaps most fundamentally, they have pride. When you’re homeless, you’re a second-class citizen. When you have a key to your own door, things are better.
One of the things local authorities can do straight away to fulfil their obligations on ending homelessness is to push developers to build more affordable homes. Currently, affordable homes are added to the housing stock through Section 106 of the Town Planning Act, where developers must allocate a percentage of their new build to be affordable housing, in return for receiving permission to build. Could councils extend Section 106 to make the proportion of homes that must be set aside higher?
Ending the temporary housing of homeless people is a shame, but it is also an opportunity. We can build on the excellent work we have done so far and use it as a springboard to end homelessness for good, not just for a few months at a time.
The worry is that caring for the homeless will take a back seat as the powers that be focus on other matters, such as the economy.
The good thing about affordable housing is that the legislation is already there. There are already affordable homes going on to the market. There just needs to be more of them, with more being built at a faster rate.
We hope that the government, local authorities, housing associations and the construction industry can work together and grasp this opportunity. It can be done.