Post-Covid: an opportunity to rethink rough sleeping in Bedford

Rough Sleeper black and white

Could one of the benefits emerging from the coronavirus pandemic be an end to rough sleeping in the UK?

Emergency Government funding has already taken vulnerable rough sleepers off the UK’s streets, but radical plans to provide thousands of long-term, safe homes have been unveiled by Robert Jenrick MP.

The Government aims to support many of the thousands of rough sleepers currently housed in emergency accommodation to move on to more sustainable, long-term housing.

Robert Jenrick MP
Housing, Communities & Local Government Secretary, Robert Jenrick MP, announced the funding last week

According to the statement by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), “By accelerating plans for the £381 million announced for rough sleeping services at Budget – now extended to £433 million – the funding will ensure that 6,000 new housing units will be put into the system, with 3,300 of these becoming available in the next 12 months.

“In addition to accelerating this capital spend for investment in housing stock, the government is also increasing the revenue support of the total programme by 37% to make sure that the rough sleepers have the support they need to stay off the streets for good.”

Commenting on the response to homelessness in the pandemic, Mike Hyden of JustUs said, “This situation has given us a fresh impetus at how we can look at homelessness.

“It’s been an opportunity to rethink approaches to homelessness. Is putting multiple strangers in a room in a hostel the right way to do things?

“Bedford’s done as well as anyone during this crisis. There’s good infrastructure from support agencies and good quality accommodation, but what next?

“While news of extra funding is welcome, what will these housing units be like? A roof doesn’t mean a home. It’s absolutely crucial that someone could make these housing units into a long-term home.”

While there will be more money to support Bedford’s rough sleepers, Mike is concerned that unless there is a political will, many of the same mistakes will be repeated.

“Rather than procuring housing from private landlords, we’d like to see Bedford Borough Council investing in suitable accommodation.

“Otherwise, much of this government money will go straight into the hands of private landlords, offering uninhabitable properties and the cycle will continue.”

Thanks to the efforts of charities, local government and other partners, in just over two months, more than 90% of rough sleepers known to councils at the beginning of the pandemic have now been offered accommodation where they can remain safe and able to protect themselves during the crisis.

The on-going plans are being pulled together by the Rough Sleeping COVID-19 Response Taskforce, led by Dame Louise Casey, bringing together local government, charities, faith groups, public sector partners and businesses in order to use the coronavirus crisis and current successful work so far in bringing ‘everyone in’ as a catalyst towards ending rough sleeping for good.

Dame Louise Casey said, “The goal is ambitious – together, we want to do everything possible to ensure that vulnerable people who were sleeping rough and have come inside during this pandemic – some for the first time in a very long time – do not go back to the streets.”

Mercure Hotel
Bedford’s rough-sleepers have been offered accommodation at this town centre hotel

Said Mike, “This crisis has shown this isn’t about resources, it’s about policies. Housing Bedford’s homeless in a hotel isn’t a long-term answer, but it does show that it can be done.

“The people I’ve spoken to have taken advantage of the accommodation given to them and are now looking at the longer term.  It’s vital they are not allowed to fall through the cracks again.”

A Borough Council spokesperson said, “In accordance with Government guidance, every single known rough sleeper in Bedford Borough has been offered accommodation during the coronavirus outbreak, and the majority have taken up that offer.

“This provision has included block booking 60 rooms at a local hotel; to date this booking runs until the end of June. We will continue to follow Government guidance around COVID-19 as their plans to ease restrictions become clear.”

However, according to a former outreach worker in Bedford, “The economic effects of the pandemic will force more people into homelessness; families will be pushed into poverty.

“It’s going to have a real knock-on effect for everyone.

“The response from the government has seen a real change in the public attitudes towards rough sleepers. It has humanised them.”

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