The independent London newspaper

Cold comfort for homeless this winter as campaigners warn of shelter shortage

"Lack of winter shelters and increased evictions a s*** storm"

17 September, 2020 — By Bronwen Weatherby

Winter shelters provide rough sleepers with place to sleep during cold months

HOMELESS campaigners have warned that there will be a shortage of winter shelters for rough sleepers when colder weather comes.

Organisations such as community groups and churches who open dormitory-style facilities are expected to have drastically reduced capacity due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and social distancing measures.

There are also fears that the numbers on the streets will increase when a ban on evictions and the furlough salary scheme come to an end.

Jon Glackin, founder of grassroots outreach group Streets Kitchen, believes empty office blocks and buildings should now be repurposed to house the homeless.

He said: “Winter shelters will not be in operation like they were last year and it’s scary because we’re seeing lots of people becoming homeless already. We’ve got illegal evictions, the eviction ban lifting soon and people coming off the furlough scheme. To be honest it’s a s*** storm. Normally by now plans for winter shelters are in place but we can’t plan because we haven’t had any guidance.”

Mr Glackin said: “There’s a tried and tested solution to this, and that’s using large vacant buildings as shelters like we did with Glass House in Islington last year. We just need the councils to get behind the idea.”

Matt Turtle of the Museum of Homelessness, said: “The problem is we’re being met by a void of silence from the housing ministry, and it’s just being left to communities to try and come up with ways to deal with it, which is really, really outrageous.”

He added: “Some organisations are even thinking of renting properties but that’s not sustainable and a lot of groups can’t afford to do that. Or setting up hosting schemes, whereby members of congregations for instance, host rough sleepers in their homes, but that’s not a long-term solution either.”

The “Everyone In” scheme saw the government prioritise homeless people during the lockdown by spending millions of pounds placing people in Covid-secure hotels across the UK. Housing minister Robert Jenrick claimed 90 per cent of rough sleepers had been brought in off the streets to protect them from the virus, however this was disputed by frontline workers.

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said he had bid for more funding from government to keep hostel places open. Camden’s Safer Communities chief Councillor Nadia Shah said the council had recently opened a 16-bed shelter for people which will be open until March.

But she added: “We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to provide people with a route out of homelessness for good, but we can’t do this without meaningful financial support from the government.”

A Housing Ministry spokesperson said: “The government has given councils unprecedented support through the pandemic providing £3.7 billion to help them support their communities – including helping rough sleepers – and nearly 15,000 vulnerable people have been housed in emergency accommodation during the pandemic helping to keep them safe.”


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