COVID-19: Thousands still sleeping rough despite government campaign to provide housing during lockdown

Thousands of people are still sleeping rough despite a government campaign to cut homelessness during lockdown, new figures show.

According to data from Combined Homelessness and Information Network (Chain), around 3,002 rough sleepers were identified by outreach teams in London between January and March.

Over half (52%) were on the streets for the first time, while 11% lived rough permanently.

At the start of the year, as lockdown began, the government urged local authorities to "redouble their efforts" to accommodate people sleeping rough in England.

Chain figures show that 1,587 Londoners were placed in emergency accommodation in the first part of 2021 – a substantial increase of 72% from the previous quarter.

The total number of rough sleepers recorded in the first three months of this year was down by 19% from the same period last year and down 9% from September to December.

While the Salvation Army said the government’s Everyone In campaign had made a difference, the charity warned homelessness will become more even more prevalent if support mechanisms are suddenly removed once lockdown restrictions are eased.

"Although real progress was made as part of the Everyone In initiative and other schemes to help prevent and relieve homelessness during the pandemic, it is vital we keep up the momentum and ensure long-term investment for homelessness services," said Lorrita Johnson, the Salvation Army’s director of homelessness services.

"This is key as an economic downturn is likely to mean more people are forced to sleep on the streets in the coming months and years."

Crisis, a homeless charity, has warned that vulnerable groups are falling through the cracks, particularly those with no access to public funds.

It is urging local councils to follow a recent High Court ruling on the matter, which said rough sleepers who would not usually be eligible for help can be given emergency housing during the pandemic.

Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said: "It’s deeply concerning that we entered the new year and a third national lockdown with over 3,000 people sleeping on our streets and 316 people forced to live this way day after day.

"Rough sleeping at any time is unacceptable, but we must remember this was when coronavirus cases were rapidly accelerating, and temperatures were freezing meaning this situation was all the more dangerous and deadly.

"The same issue persists today so we must stress that while the threat of the virus remains among us, we urge councils to continue to provide everyone with a safe place to stay in line with the recent High Court judgment."

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A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: "We have so far housed 37,000 people during the pandemic through our ongoing Everyone In initiative, and we expect councils to continue ensuring all rough sleepers are safely supported.

"We continue to work with councils, charities and other partners to protect the most vulnerable and are providing over £750 million this year alone to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping."

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