Spotlight: UK charities call on legislation to help rough sleepers during pandemic

  • World
  • Friday, 04 Sep 2020

LONDON, Sept. 3 (Xinhua) -- As the British economy continues to take a hit from the impact of coronavirus, charities focused on homelessness and rough sleeping are urging the government to consider permanent laws to help people stay off the streets.

In an exclusive interview with Xinhua, Ruth Jacobs, senior policy officer of organisation Crisis UK, said that emergency accommodation for those in need should be law.

"We really need to see new emergency homelessness legislation that would provide a legal duty on local authorities, so they actually have to provide emergency accommodation for everyone who's at risk of rough sleeping," Jacobs said.

"We need to see that guarantee in legislation so that everyone who has nowhere safe to stay is definitely provided with emergency accommodation. And because that's not what we have at the moment, at the moment people can be forced to sleep on the streets, and they may have no other option and there's no duty necessarily for them to be housed even during this time."

According to data released by Streetlink, reports of people sleeping rough rose sharply during lockdown, despite claims by the British government that over 90 percent of those homeless had been helped off the streets.

The government launched a multi-million pound initiative to rehouse people during the pandemic, titled the Everyone In scheme. It was described as largely successful by those in government as around 15,000 people were provided with emergency accommodation, but charities said the pandemic itself had led to a new wave of people being made homeless as the services and facilities they would have relied on closed.

As the Everyone In initiative looks to be phased out by the end of September, there are concerns that the knock-on effect of the pandemic - job losses and rent prices - would force more people onto the streets.

"There is definitely a huge concern that there could be a really significant rise of homelessness in the UK," Jacobs told Xinhua.

"With the Everyone In initiative we saw those temporary measures put in place to put people into emergency accommodation, but we haven't seen legal change. So I think there's a real concern now, that as winter approaches, and as we potentially see an increase in coronavirus cases, that will see more and more people becoming homeless and councils not knowing how they can support these people."

There are also concerns for foreign nationals who may not have the access to public funds being forced to sleep on the streets due to job losses.

"We could see people be locked out of support because of their immigration status, because they don't have a connection to the local area because they're not considered to be vulnerable enough to be entitled to emergency accommodation. So we need to see that legal change so that councils can help everyone and can make sure that everyone has temporary housing, if they're facing homelessness, and then everyone gets that support to move on into permanent accommodation for the future," Jacobs added.

The major concern for charities which deal with homeless people is what comes next. As there is much uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and the British economy, the impact on rough sleepers is hard to predict.

Jacobs highlighted that there is already growing evidence to suggest that more and more people are becoming homeless due to the current economic situation.

"We're still seeing a huge economic impact and increasing numbers of people coming under more and more pressure from high rents from their wages and from losing work. And there's a risk that we'll see and are beginning to see many more people being pushed into homelessness," she said.

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