Socialist Party
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6 May 2020

Homeless left on streets during pandemic - homes for all, reverse the cuts!

Andrea Gilbert, homelessness worker

On 29 March, the government told local councils and outreach teams to bring all rough sleepers into accommodation. But even according to the government, just 90% of rough sleepers have now been taken off the streets - leaving 10% still on the streets with no support.

The government announced 3.2 million to help with this, and London's mayor provided ten hotels. But it's not enough.

After this pandemic is over, the government and councils cannot let things go back to how they were before. They need to start mass building of council homes to support society's most vulnerable with somewhere to live.

This will help ensure they can connect with local services to get the support and guidance they need to live a fulfilling life. Councils have a further part to play by ensuring services are available and staff have up-to-date training to support these people.

A former soldier, Mike, 85, is currently rough sleeping with up to 30 others at Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 during the lockdown, according to the Daily Mail.

Mike, who served in the Canadian armed forces, was in the process of applying for British citizenship before the pandemic started. He said his immigration status "is a bit complicated. I don't want to tell you too much because I could get into trouble and I have enough problems already.

"There were a lot more homeless people sleeping at the airport a few weeks ago but most of them were found accommodation. But I think because I'm not British and because of my age, nobody is helping me."

Mike is in the at-risk group for the coronavirus, and should be self-isolating for 12 weeks due to his age. It is shocking that a pensioner is being left on the streets with no recourse to public funding. This policy needs to go as it is leaving people on the street longer and not supporting the most vulnerable.

We need requisition of property unused by the super-rich as they're taking homes from people who need them. And we desperately need to expand welfare and social services so they can provide.

Only socialist policies can reverse all the cuts and support us moving on from this crisis. Capitalism will not do this, which is why we need to fight for rough sleepers alongside fighting to change society for the better. We need socialism now and for the future so we can all thrive.

A petition to support rough sleepers during and after the pandemic has over 4,000 signatures. Please sign and share widely.

Jack, North London Socialist Party, writes:

Working in homelessness, I was happy to hear the government announce on 2 May the creation of a taskforce to end homelessness.

This followed guidance from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on 26 March that during the pandemic, local authorities had a duty to house all homeless people, regardless of their circumstances.

However, as time passes - similar to PPE, testing and care homes - government propaganda is increasingly out of line with reality. Although the Tories claim that 90% of rough sleepers known to local authorities have had an accommodation offer, I have heard many reports of rough sleepers still struggling to find shelter.

One of my clients with limited phone access has been on Tottenham Court Road for over a month. Despite outreach having multiple contacts with him, he is still waiting for an accommodation offer.

Their failure to fight against years of austerity means local authorities have lost roughly 49% of their income since 2010. This leaves scant resources to deal with the wave of homelessness austerity helped create.

Although the government has announced some funds to support councils, this is nowhere near the 9 billion estimated shortfall due to coronavirus.

As the lockdown stretches on, this is increasingly impacting those who work in insecure, low-paid industries such as hospitality. Many of these workers were on zero-hour contracts, employed by agencies who have no interest in furloughing staff, or have been thrust into unemployment when businesses close.

Not earning enough to have formal rental agreements, many combined sofa-surfing with short stays in London's many youth hostels. With these shut, funds running out, and travel restricted, they are increasingly thrown onto the street.

Once there, they find council offices shut, day centres closed, housing options and outreach services overwhelmed, and emergency accommodation full. This needlessly places not only their own, but also others' health, at risk.

Only through placing people in accommodation where they have the ability to self-isolate can we reduce their own risk of infection and the possibility of transmission to others.

Councils must demand full funding now, to guarantee same-day accommodation offers for all rough sleepers. To emerge from this pandemic as a healthy, resilient society, shelter must become a right, not a privilege.