The pandemic has shown that when the political will is there, ending homelessness is possible

Saskia Neibig, Policy and Public Affairs Officer at Crisis, on how the government must act now to build on the ‘Everyone In’ scheme and end homelessness for good. 

Between 2017 and 2019, nearly 800 people died over an eighteen-month period while homeless in the UK. This shocking fact was uncovered by Maeve McClenaghan and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism during their year-long project Dying Homeless. The project inspired Maeve’s book No Fixed Abode, a book that finally gives a face and a voice to those we so easily forget in our society. In recent years, the number of rough sleepers in the UK has sky-rocketed and the coronavirus pandemic has brought additional risks for people experiencing homelessness. Crisis are calling on the government to introduce the emergency legislation required to ensure that everyone has a safe and stable home. Here Saskia Neibig, Policy and Public Affairs Officer at Crisis, explains how they have been supporting people through the pandemic and why the government should grasp the opportunity to end homelessness once and for all.

This year, we’ve all seen our daily way of life change drastically, throwing into sharp relief how important a safe and secure home is. From the start of the pandemic, it became clear that additional support would be required to protect people experiencing homelessness, as they would not have anywhere to safely self-isolate or follow sanitation guidance. This wasn’t just a challenge for those who had been sleeping rough. Temporary hostel accommodation was no longer suitable due to shared dormitories and bathrooms, while those whose who had relied on sofa surfing to get by found that they could no longer stay in other people’s houses during lockdown. 

The government quickly recognised the risk to people who were homeless, and worked with local authorities and homelessness charities to deliver the “Everyone In” scheme in England. This extraordinary effort to accommodate nearly 15,000 people safely during lockdown undoubtedly saved lives. 

This posed a challenge for Crisis and the rest of the homelessness sector, as we adapted our services to support people facing homelessness in a safe way. This included providing practical support, such as food parcels and wellbeing packages, which contained art supplies and puzzles, to help people keep mentally and physically well in lockdown. 

We’ve also been providing much more advice and support over the phone and moved many of our classes online. We partnered with Tesco Mobile to provide phones with data and credit to help people who might otherwise have been cut off from support while face-to-face services were unable to operate. This meant that they could stay connected with our staff and volunteers while isolating in temporary accommodation, and that they could access advice and support for things like making Universal Credit claims, to ensure they got the support they needed throughout the pandemic.  

But no matter how well supported, a hotel room is not an end to homelessness. Along with colleagues in local authorities and across the homelessness sector, we’ve been supporting people to move on from temporary accommodation into permanent, safe and settled homes. As well as supporting people into homes through our services, Crisis’ campaign Home for All is calling on the Government to commit to a plan that will enable everyone to have the security of a safe and settled home. As shared shelters and hostels have become unsafe, we cannot see a return to these forms of accommodation in the winter months ahead while the virus still poses a risk. 

The last few months have shown what can be done to end homelessness if the political will is there, but this does rely on the Government making ending homelessness a priority. 

 In the early response to the pandemic, our communities demonstrated the very best of what society can do to secure our mutual health, safety and wellbeing. Frontline services have had to adapt and work harder than ever, while volunteers have supported our communities with food and friendship. We’ve all been making sacrifices to keep our loved ones safe, and even to protect total strangers. The government acted decisively to protect people who were homeless, and to prevent more people from being made homeless. Now, we face a choice about whether we let that support disappear or whether we want to grasp this opportunity to end homelessness once and for all. 

Urgent action is required so that we don’t miss this opportunity. Many contracts for emergency accommodation are coming to an end, but local authorities are not being required to secure long-term homes for those who might end up being pushed onto the streets. The Westminster Government’s Next Steps funding programme relies too heavily on temporary funding for specialist housing. Without emergency legislation and proper funding, many of those people will be facing a system again in which they are not considered a priority for support.

At the heart of the success of “Everyone In” was the idea that all people should be helped in the face of homelessness, regardless of immigration status or local connection. This temporarily lessened the failings of the existing legal system which denies help to some people in need because they don’t qualify for help, but without emergency legislation, we risk returning to that same faulty system. 

The Westminster government’s temporary ban on evictions reduced the risk of homelessness for many households, but now it is coming to an end. Without emergency legislation, the countless people who have lost their jobs and fallen behind on their rent are eyeing an uncertain future. 

Join us in asking the government to introduce the emergency legislation required to ensure that everyone can be kept safe: 

No Fixed Abode

Book cover for No Fixed Abode

This timely and important book gives a voice to those we so easily forget in society, while encompassing the wider themes of inequality and austerity measures. Maeve McClenaghan shares the human stories of the people struggling in a crumbling system, as well as shining a light on the many ad-hoc projects attempting to address the problem.