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Coronavirus: Accommodation for 211 rough sleepers in Newham provided during pandemic

PUBLISHED: 07:00 29 May 2020

Rough sleepers have been given accommodation during the pandemic. Picture: Archant

Rough sleepers have been given accommodation during the pandemic. Picture: Archant

Archant

More than 200 rough sleepers have been housed by Newham Council since the start of the coronavirus crisis, with just a handful remaining on the streets.

Councils across the country were handed a share of £3.2m in March with the aim of ensuring everyone had somewhere to stay during the pandemic, with around 5,400 rough sleepers nationwide believed to be assisted by the scheme.

Newham Council said that it had accommodated 211 people across more than 50 sites, most of which are hotels or homes of multiple occupation (HMOs). Of these, 170 presented themselves as rough sleepers requiring somewhere to stay while a further 41 were moved from shared accommodation to enable them to self-isolate.

Every person moved into accommodation has been given an assessment to understand what support they may need, such as substance misuse services.

There are 10 people known to the council’s outreach service who have refused offers of accommodation with a further three who are waiting to move into Greater London Authority-funded properties.

The council said that none of those given accommodation have been evicted onto the streets for any reason, but a small number had voluntarily left the property they had been given.

These are being supported by the outreach teams, who are also visiting areas known to be popuar with rough sleepers such as the Stratford Centre. The teams are also responding to information from the Streetlink service as well as members of the public and partner organisations to help those who are sleeping rough.

Cllr John Gray, deputy mayor and lead member for housing, also chairs the Newham Rough Sleepers Task Force.

He said: “Pre-Covid we had over 28,000 people on our council housing waiting list, 50 per cent more children living in temporary homes that the entire north of England and we had the third highest number of rough sleepers in London.

“When lockdown came it soon became clear that we had to get “everyone in” and off the streets and families into accommodation where they could self-isolate if necessary.

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“Council officers, our partners in the voluntary sector, police, health and local charities worked their socks off to deliver. It was a true team effort. We have managed to accommodate or relocate 211 rough sleepers.

“It was an incredible challenge and shows what can be done.”

But he warned that this has come at a “huge cost” and urged the government to use the opportunity to end homelessness once and for all - adding that it would require not only money to build new homes but also changes to policies such as abolishing ‘no fault’ evictions.

The council said that the initial focus was to ensure that everyone without accommodation was supported into accommodation to enable them to follow government guidance and self-isolate if necessary.

The next step is to ensure that those in accommodation will have both long and short-term needs assessed, with a spokesperson adding: “We will be taking every opportunity to ensure that the government are aware of the significant resources and financial support required to make sure that everyone has an offer so they do not need to return to the streets.”

Newham Council will be working with partners to identify sustainable move-on options for the rough sleepers, with the pandemic providing a “unique opportunity” to engage with those who had previously reluctant to do so.

The spokesperson said: “It can usually take a while to build trust and understand people’s needs before supporting them with a longer term sustainable accommodation and support offer.

“This time has enabled us to quickly develop these relationships to support people away from the street and into stable accommodation and for the specialist services to maintain settled case working relationships to achieve positive outcomes.”

Cllr Gray added: “In the past after national emergencies such as war or pandemics we have come together as a nation and left a positive legacy.

“After the end of the Second World War, 75 years ago, we formed the NHS, the welfare state and for a generation, governments of all political colours competed on who could build the most homes at the cheapest rents and the cheapest mortgages.

“We must do this again to fix our broken housing system. Let this be the legacy.”


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