Lockdown 3: homeless to be left out in the cold

Calls for city to act as the government ‘abandons’ rough sleepers

Friday, 8th January 2021 — By Tom Foot

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MORE than 200 people living on the cold Westminster streets are being denied emergency accommodation during the lockdown, campaigners have warned.

The council is under pressure to intervene after the government said it would not provide the same level of support to homeless people as it did last year.

Opposition group councillors are calling on City Hall to demand the “Everyone In” scheme is funded again.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “During the first national lockdown the government recognised just how dangerous it is to be sleeping on the streets in the middle of a deadly pandemic and took an ‘Everyone In’ approach.

“We are now in a situation as bad, if not worse, than last March. The government must act urgently to direct councils to provide safe emergency accommodation to anyone who is at risk of sleeping rough.”

The Everyone In scheme is credited with saving lives and also helping many homeless people into permanent accommodation and also work.

It also allowed outreach teams to easily access the street population and give them regular health check-ups and check on their needs.

With night temperatures dropping to freezing, there are believed to be more than 200 people facing life on the street again now that the scheme has come to an end.

Labour’s housing lead Cllr Guthrie McKie said: “There is no doubt that this scheme saved lives in the first lockdown.

“Now in the midst of winter and a new highly transmissible Covid variant, rough sleepers have been abandoned by the government. Westminster Council must pressure Conservative ministers to reverse their decision.”

Labour councillor and Greater London Assembly candidate Rita Begum added: “This decision to not support rough sleepers as temperatures plummet and we face lockdown is disgraceful.”

It comes in the week Prince William helped prepare hot meals as he made a surprise visit to homelessness charity The Passage in Victoria.

The council spends £8million a year on supporting rough sleepers and commissions 400 supported housing bed spaces, an assessment centre and an overnight centre.

A council spokesperson said: “Despite our services coming under increased pressure since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, our outreach teams have continued to offer around- the-clock support and protection for rough sleepers across Westminster.

“Since March 2020 we have worked with charity partners across the city to provide settled accommodation for more than 430 rough sleepers, many of which were initially moved off the streets and into temporary emergency accommodation during national lockdowns.

During lockdown measures, our services have increased drastically to match demand and provide essential support, as well as to curb the spread of Covid-19. This includes the opening of additional donation hubs, assessment centres, and testing and treatment centres, as well as the organisation of rapid routes off the streets and into safe and secure accommodation.

“In severe weather conditions, the council will also continue to operate our SWEP [severe weather emergency protocol] process and will be able to quickly make the offer of accommodation to rough sleepers who wish to take it up.”

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