There can be no doubt that the combined efforts of the government’s Everyone In scheme, homelessness charities and local authorities, have achieved huge amounts in homeless people during the pandemic, writes Katie Willy.
But as autumn beckons, questions remain about what support will be available in the future. And more importantly, will the predicted economic downturn will lead to more people losing their homes and push already-stretched services to breaking point?
Ruth Jacob, a policy officer at the charity Crisis, says while local authorities and homelessness organisations are working very hard to help people move on to longer term accommodation or other temporary housing, there are concerns that the recent progress to get people off the streets will be undermined, particularly if some of the current legal restrictions on the support people can access remains in place.
‘Current legislation means that not everyone has a legal right to emergency accommodation while experiencing homelessness; some are not considered in priority need to be vulnerable enough to access support,’ she explains.
‘We are calling for emergency legal measures to ensure that every local council can provide housing support to anyone who is experiencing homelessness – crucially that needs to be backed up by funding.
‘We know the financial pressures will continue to build as people lose work, and with the ban on evictions coming to an end, we are likely to see more people becoming homeless. This is about the legal duty to everyone in need, regardless of their immigration status or any other factors, to have access to emergency accommodation,’ says Ms Jacob.
Billy Harding, a policy and research officer for Centrepoint says many young people who couch surf or who live temporarily with friends are part of the ‘hidden homeless’ and have often been overlooked by the Everyone In policy.
‘The support was there for those already on the streets in the initial phase, but quite limited for people becoming homeless during the pandemic,’ says Mr Harding.
‘Our own youth homelessness helpline saw a 50% jump in young people contacting us for support, compared to the same time last year, and more than three quarters of councils have seen an increase in homelessness during the pandemic.’
‘It has been so positive to see new funding being made available for emergency accommodation – but unless long term structural challenges are addressed, such as the critical lack of affordable housing, and younger people facing massively reduced benefits rates – we’re concerned that any efforts that have been taken now won’t necessarily stop more people becoming homeless in the future.’
According to Resolution Foundation, an independent think-tank focused on improving living standards for low to middle incomes, a third of 18-24-year-old employees (excluding students) have lost jobs or been furloughed during the pandemic, compared to one in six of adults.
For those already on the brink of homelessness, staying with friends or couch surfing to avoid rough sleeping, Coronavirus has affected this tentative lifeline; those offering temporary support may have withdrawn offers of shelter, due to health risks or loss of income. Family breakdown is a prime factor of youth homelessness, and this too has been exacerbated by an increase in domestic abuse and instability during lockdown.
To instil real change and protect everyone while we battle through the impact of the pandemic, legal infrastructure, backed by funding, is imperative.
‘The Ride Out Recession Alliance, spearheaded by the Big Issue, is calling for the eviction ban not to be lifted until changes are made in law to protect renters from eviction due to coronavirus,’ explains, Tracy Griffin, CEO of The Big Issue Foundation.
‘We are calling for a rescue package to stimulate the economy and provide the homes we need, including a new era of social home building. England needs 90,000 social homes a year to beat the broken housing system. While the government pledged a target of 300,000 a year of new social home build until 2025, in reality only a few thousands have been built to date. The government must boost funding to local authorities to use public land to build social housing, instead of selling it at a profit.’
‘Seventy-five per sent of local councils expect to see an increase in homelessness, and less than 25% feel they are equipped to accommodate those people currently housed in emergency accommodation. With the reduced furlough scheme, the imminent end of the eviction ban and the UK in the worst recession since World War 2, it is a perfect storm which demands urgent concerted action.’
Photo Credit – Ohurtsov (Pixabay)