The Catholic Union and church groups in London have warned of a rough sleeping crisis, unless the Government acts soon.
Around 15,000 people across the country have been housed by local authorities since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. This has been made possible by extra funding from the Government to provide accommodation for rough sleepers in empty hotels and hostels as part of the “everyone in” scheme. This includes 1,400 people in London.
Many of the contracts between local authorities and accommodation providers are due to come to an end shortly, as hotels are allowed to reopen from 4 July. The Government has announced £85 million of new funding to secure alternative rooms for rough sleepers, such as student accommodation. But church groups are worried this has come too late for some people, and there is no extra help for the growing number of people still on the streets.
The Government has said it is committed to meeting the needs of rough sleepers to ensure “that as few people as possible return to the streets.”
Dame Louise Casey has been asked to lead a taskforce on providing long-term solutions to ending rough sleeping. But no timescale has been given for this work, and church groups are worried that time is running out to produce a plan.
In a letter to Dame Louise, the Catholic Union has called for all people currently given shelter by the “everyone in” scheme to be housed permanently. It also highlights the challenges faced by rough sleepers with no resource to public funds.
The letter was sent on behalf of the Justice and Peace Department of the Catholic Diocese of Westminster, who are working in conjunction with Caritas, the social action department of the Diocese of Westminster, and the Jesuit Refugee Service UK.
Chair of Westminster Justice and Peace, Fr Dominic Robinson, commented: “During the lockdown the central London Catholic Churches have been working nonstop with local businesses and government to help the many rough sleepers still on our streets. Some funds are being promised to rehouse the homeless currently in hotels but now many more men and women who’ve lost jobs and become destitute are pouring onto our streets. This catastrophe is avoidable if there is a temporary reprieve for the growing number of destitute who have no recourse to public funds. If public funds are made available for this group of people left on the streets, we stand ready to work together for what we all want – a permanent and holistic solution to this affront to human dignity which sees those who have lost everything with nowhere to turn”.
Catholic Union Head of Public Affairs, James Somerville-Meikle, commented: “The new funding from the Government is a step in the right direction, but it has come late in the day. Many rough sleepers face being turned out of hotel and hostel rooms in the week ahead. Whilst the long-term commitment to end homelessness is welcome, we need an immediate plan for how to prevent a rough sleeping crisis. Church groups stand ready to be part of the solution and can help get support to some of the most vulnerable people in society – people that government services often struggle to reach.”