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The cost of Covid grows as hundreds more face losing homes

More than 300 households deemed 'at risk of homelessness' since April

18 September, 2020 — By by Sam Ferguson

Streets Kitchen’s Jon Glackin

FEARS are growing that a “perfect storm” of ending furlough support, removing a ban on evictions and precarious local authority finances will leave more people at risk of homelessness.

According to Town Hall records released to the Tribune, 301 households who have approached the council for support since the early days of lockdown were deemed “threatened with homelessness”, meaning they were likely to lose their homes within 56 days.

Of these, 24 had already been served a section 21 notice of eviction. On top of this, a further 251 were already homeless when they asked for help.

Yesterday (Thursday), the government announced a package of funding to support councils, with Islington confirming it had been granted £826,000 to support its work with rough sleepers.

But with council finances already teetering, there are fears vulnerable households could fall through the cracks.

Streets Kitchen founder Jon Glackin said he thought the worst was yet to come, and added a “terrifying” situation was unfolding where there was no clarity if any winter shelters would be available for street homeless people this year.

“It’s a perfect storm coming, and I don’t think we’ve seen anything yet,” he said.

“Those numbers are scary. People are still on furlough, then there’s the eviction ban coming to an end. On the streets we’re seeing more and more street homeless.

“There’s not enough room in hotels or in hostels. It could easily get much worse if more people start losing their homes.

“Shelter capacity will have to be reduced. Already they are talking at operating at around 30 per cent capacity for winter shelters.

“The council’s budgets were under-resourced before, and now they are going to have much less this year. It has to have a big impact on the support they can offer.

“There’s goodwill there, and a wish to do things properly, but the reality is there’s not going to be as much funding available. The duty of care lies with central government, and the blame can be laid at their door.”

Yesterday, the council also received news that the North London Housing Partnership was awarded £530,000 to support work with rough sleepers across six boroughs.

The council is making use of two additional buildings to accom­modate rough sleepers, and a spokesman said more than 80 additional beds were used by the council during the height of the pandemic.

Housing chief Labour councillor Diarmaid Ward declined to discuss the issues with the Tribune when approached.

In a statement released by the council’s press office, he said he was pleased the council’s bid for funding from the government had been successful.

Streets Kitchen has long called for empty buildings to be opened as temporary homeless shelters, and have urged private landlords and building owners to make space available as happened with the Glass House near Seven Sisters Road last year.

“We’ve got a number of hotels, and there’s a lot of office blocks and luxury apartments that aren’t being used,” he said.

“Nobody is really talking about going back to work this side of Christmas. They could be used temporarily as winter shelters.

“We need central government support, and support from the GLA [Greater London Authority] as well as the local community. We’ve all got to come together to get through this.”

The confusion over who is responsible for putting plans in place was apparent when the Tribune approached the Mayor of London’s office to ask about plans for winter homeless provision and empty buildings, but was told it was waiting on advice from Public Health England.

When approached, Public Health England referred the Tribune to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

Their spokesman pointed to the extra funding for councils announced on Thursday but did not address concerns over winter shelters or plans to use empty buildings.

The Mayor’s office added it had secured enough funding to keep GLA hostels open, and said it was continuing to bid for more money while lobbying the government to continue funding the ‘Everybody In’ initiative, which saw the government spend millions placing people in Covid-secure hotels across the UK as the coronavirus spread.

Secretary of State for Communities and Housing, Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said: “The incredible national effort to support rough sleepers during the pandemic has protected many lives and is widely regarded as one of the most successful programmes of its kind in the world. I’m hugely grateful to all those involved.

“This funding will ensure that vulnerable people and rough sleepers continue to have safe accommodation and the care and support they need, to ensure as few as possible return to the streets.”

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