England’s homelessness continues during the pandemic and here’s how you can help

Aaliyah Harris

There is a homelessness crisis in the UK. And with millions reported to be worried about how they’ll pay the rent this winter, there are fears the situation could get even worse. Since April, and despite a ban on evictions, a further 22,798 households in England were deemed to be homeless.

During the first national lockdown when coronavirus (Covid-19) cases were peaking, councils were given only 48 hours to find emergency accommodation for every person sleeping on the streets in England.

Was everyone really in?

As a part of the solution, the government launched the ‘Everyone In’ campaign this year. According to one report:

In this first wave of SARS-CoV-2 infections in England, we estimated that the preventive measures imposed might have avoided 21 092 infections (19 777–22 147), 266 deaths (226–301), 1164 hospital admissions (1079–1254), and 338 ICU admissions (305–374) among the homeless population.

But, according to the Guardian, despite the government’s claim that 90% of rough sleepers were accommodated, StreetLink highlighted that it had seen an increase in reports of rough sleeping. Although it added that this might be “because rough sleepers were more visible during lockdown because streets were quieter, and that members of the public had heightened concern”.

StreetLink’s director also stated that there were people who were  “forced to sleep rough for the first time as a direct impact of the virus”.

Furthermore, the Guardian reported that:

Data obtained by freedom of information requests to 21 councils, including London boroughs and five other major cities across England, shows that of the nearly 4,000 people they housed under the scheme between March and May, 1,000 had left by the end of that period.

The second lockdown

Fears also arose in the second national lockdown after homelessness charities called on the government to ensure that rough sleepers are kept safe like all other people.

At the end of October, the charity Shelter reported:

Almost 100,000 homeless households were stuck in temporary accommodation during the first national lockdown.

It added that the government released figures about England’s homelessness which show:

At the end of June 2020, 98,300 homeless households were living in temporary accommodation, an unprecedented rise of 7% in just three months from 92,190 households at the end of March, and a rise of 14% in a year.

Although this news is better than seeing people sleeping rough on the streets in dangerous conditions, it’s not an effective solution to tackle the core problem of homelessness in this country. We’re all aware that homelessness is not a new issue that’s been incited from coronavirus. And that government funding for a few thousand permanent homes won’t help every person who’s struggling, or has been struggling for years, to find stable housing in England.

This reaction to now propose safe and long-term housing has been driven by the needs to protect the nation’s health — which is telling of how our government prioritises its actions towards homelessness as a whole.

As the second lockdown ends and we move into a new tier system, we will face the question: what happens now?

How can we solve the housing crisis?

In England, emergency accommodation and temporary shelters have been a frequent solution for homelessness. But this doesn’t provide security or solve the problem. In other countries, working solutions have shown a real impact towards creating long-lasting change. National housing schemes like Finland’s ground-breaking Housing First project demonstrate the positive impact of unconditional housing and 24/7 on-call support. Finland successfully became the first EU country to see homelessness numbers fall. And in just eight years, the number of homeless people decreased by 35%.

Meanwhile, according to St Mungo’s:

Last year in England 4,266 people slept rough. And it’s growing. During lockdown the number of new rough sleepers increased by over 70% in London alone.

Since 2010, the number of people sleeping rough has risen by a whopping 141%. And this doesn’t even include other forms of homelessness, e.g. statutory homelessness and hidden homelessness such as sofa surfing.

Homelessness has been an ongoing concern in Britain long before the coronavirus outbreak. And it hasn’t slowed since Boris Johnson failed to meet his promise to eradicate rough sleeping in London by 2012 during his time as London mayor. In fact, rough sleeping in London doubled in just five years during 2010-2015.

It’s now up to every one of us to help this winter and to continue the support afterwards. Here are a few simple steps of how you can support those in need.

Have a conversation with the person

You may not feel confident enough to approach a stranger and ask what they need, but it’s the best way to find out and to engage with your local community. Every person facing homelessness has different struggles and challenges and that may include different needs — other than just offering a hot meal or drink.

Always remember it is not your place to judge, which includes following the stigmas about giving money to people experiencing homelessness. Do not be sceptical about the person’s situation. Do not only offer money with conditions attached (such as only if the person is busking, performing or asking directly for it). And if you can, try and give a substantial amount. You may only have some change to give but if you can afford to give that person at least £5-10, it could provide shelter for the night.

Always assume you may be the only person stopping to offer help. When you next see a rough sleeper or someone who may be at risk of homelessness, ask them how they are and what they feel would be a help to them. 

Use your social platforms to share helpful information

It may seem simple, but while England undergoes national lockdowns and restricted tier systems, sharing accurate, up-to-date information about housing advice and how coronavirus is affecting people experiencing homelessness could just help someone in need.

Shelter England has produced an online guide which answers questions about how to cope with the impacts of the coronavirus on housing. Here is also a brief guide from the UK government.

Contact your local MP, sign petitions, and share your support by encouraging friends and family to do the same.

Notify the StreetLink app if you’re concerned about a person sleeping rough, as this will help the service to locate that person and offer support. It’s important to remember that many people on the streets might not have a mobile phone or means for communication, and so the more we can do with our technology the better.

Donate to local shelters, charities and shops

It’s a bit difficult donating household items now as the coronavirus prevents social interaction. But if you’re limited on shops to choose from, online shopping is always an option. Essential and also non-essential items include all kinds of clothing, especially underwear and comfortable socks, as well as toiletries (including feminine hygiene products and razors), wet wipes, waterproof blankets, sleeping bags, and first aid kits.

Food items, including pet food, and transport cards can also be a huge help. Now, hand sanitizers and masks can be a help too. Most supermarkets offer a drop-off section or box where you can purchase items to donate in the store. Other items, which aren’t labelled as necessities but can help with a person’s mental health, include books, offering to book internet slots at local libraries (when it is safe to do so), and purchasing leisure centre passes which can offer a place to swim in local pools and use the shower facilities. Always check what products are in high demand with your local shelters first.

Join a fundraiser

There are plenty of ways you can get involved to raise money for your local charities and organisations. You can either start from scratch with your own idea, whether that’s completing a fitness challenge, throwing a garage sale of old items you never use, meeting a personal goal, or even experiencing a night sleeping outside yourself. With restrictions this year, completing an activity online like an interactive game night is a great way to involve multiple people from different locations and stay safe. Websites such as GoFundMe can be used to gather funds.

Contribute a financial gift 

Funding for resources and support is scarce. So anything that you can give will be an amazing help to organisations and charities who are overwhelmed with the increase of people facing the housing crisis. A small or big contribution will benefit the goal to tackle homelessness and help those who are less fortunate.

Featured image via Nick Fewings/Unsplash

Get involved

Several places where you can offer support and donate a financial contribution include:

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