The government has announced a £12m fund to help rough sleepers off the streets and keep them safe from Covid-19 this winter, but homelessness campaigners and Labour said it is too little and risks lives.
Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, has pledged £10m to English councils to provide additional self-contained accommodation for rough sleepers as part of a new cold winter fund. A further £2m will be available to faith groups and voluntary organisations to transform existing spaces into emergency accommodation.
But Crisis, the homelessness charity, attacked the package as “completely unacceptable” as it fails to match the “everyone in” strategy in March, when thousands of people were given self-contained accommodation, saving hundreds of lives, according to one study.
Jenrick said: “As we approach winter, we are focusing on the best way to protect rough sleepers from the cold weather and coronavirus. The funding and guidance I’m announcing today will mean that working with councils and community groups, some of the most vulnerable people in society are given support and a safe place to stay this winter.”
Public Health England will also publish new guidance on how to open night shelters safely without endangering residents or staff.
Rick Henderson, chief executive of Homeless Link, a charity that has advised the government, said night shelters should only open as a last resort if self-contained accommodation is not a possibility. Such communal accommodation is an infection risk unless carefully managed.
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said they should not open at all and more money should be given to councils to deliver self-contained accommodation.
“This funding falls short of the bold action we need to keep people sleeping on our streets safe this winter,” he said. “Back in March, the government rightly decided that night shelters and hostels were not a safe environment for people during the pandemic. It’s completely unacceptable that this approach should now change as we go into winter when the threat remains the same. We must not force people to choose between freezing on the street or a shelter, when both needlessly put lives at risk.”
He continued: “We urgently need the government to see sense on this matter and keep winter night shelters closed.”
Labour also attacked the announcement, with the shadow housing secretary, Thangam Debbonaire, pointing out that the promised £12m was less than the £13m available in the cold weather fund last year.
“It is extraordinary that, during a global pandemic that is exacerbated by cold weather, the government has given less … than last year,” she said. “As we enter a second Covid spike, the government’s failure to prepare for a winter homelessness crisis risks lives and public health. We need strong leadership from the government to keep its promise to end rough sleeping for good.”