After years of Tory neglect rough sleepers face ‘most desperate winter ever’

Thousands more could sleep rough this Christmas period as the pandemic has significantly cut down shelter capacity, Labour has warned.

A homeless man

Thousands more could sleep rough this Christmas period as the pandemic has significantly cut down shelter capacity, Labour has warned. With many night shelters now closed due to covid restrictions, the party is urging the government to commit that no one will spend the winter in the streets.

The campaign launched by Labour wants to ensure everyone has a safe, Covid-secure place to stay this winter. Research by charity HomelessLink found one third of homeless organisations and local authorities expect to see a decrease in capacity in the coming months, as rough sleepers face ‘their worst winter yet’.

Labour’s Shadow Secretary of Housing Thangam Debbonaire called rough sleeping even before the crisis ‘a shameful sign of government failure’.

The MP added: “This winter, without the last resort of night shelters, rough sleeping is more desperate than ever.

“The Government promised to end rough sleeping for good – it must ensure everyone has a safe, Covid-secure place to stay this winter.”

Testimonies from frontline organisations include charities struggling with less than half the usual number of volunteers as well as, in one case, less than a third of night shelter beds available this winter. This means that around 6,500 rough sleepers could be turned away.

Chris Wood, assistant director of policy at Shelter, told Left Foot Forward: “No one should have to sleep on the streets, let alone during a deadly pandemic. With the likelihood that more people will lose their jobs and homes in the months to come, the extra funding recently provided by the government to support people sleeping rough is crucial. But a lot more is needed to get everyone safely off the streets.”

Mr Wood told that while the government’s initial ‘Everyone In’ during the first lockdown approach brought thousands off the street, many are now turned away because they are not considered in ‘priority need’.

He added: “It’s critical access to safe accommodation is not a lottery, it must be there for everyone. With the winter upon us and this virus still at large, the government must make clear councils should accommodate anybody facing the streets.”

Another concern is the Home Offices’ plans to deport foreign nationals for sleeping rough, in a move some councils have called ‘cruel’, warning it will play into the hands of human traffickers.

Even before the pandemic England’s number of rough sleepers reached a new record after ten years of Conservative governments, up to 4,266 in 2019 from 1,768 in 2010.

Last Wednesday, Westminster North MP Karen Buck also raised in the House of Commons the harsh conditions households in temporary accommodation. The Labour MP talked of the 98,300 households in temporary accommodation in June, including 127,240 children, warning that people felt they were ‘being punished’ for being homeless.

Buck shared moving accounts of people, often fleeing domestic violence or dealing with medical conditions or mental health issues forced into cramped, squalid and unsafe lodgings.

She called for homelessness services in local councils to be fully funded, and for fundamental changes to housing supply and housing support in the social security system.

Buck concluded: “Homelessness is always a hellish experience, and the people who endure it are almost by definition already highly vulnerable.

“ It should not be a punishment, but my constituents ask me this question again and again: “Why am I being punished for the sin of being homeless?”

You can sign Labour’s petition to to give everyone a safe space to stay this winter here.

Sophia Dourou is a a freelance journalist

As you’re here, we have something to ask you. What we do here to deliver real news is more important than ever. But there’s a problem: we need readers like you to chip in to help us survive. We deliver progressive, independent media, that challenges the right’s hateful rhetoric. Together we can find the stories that get lost.

We’re not bankrolled by billionaire donors, but rely on readers chipping in whatever they can afford to protect our independence. What we do isn’t free, and we run on a shoestring. Can you help by chipping in as little as £1 a week to help us survive? Whatever you can donate, we’re so grateful - and we will ensure your money goes as far as possible to deliver hard-hitting news.

Comments are closed.