Few positives have emerged from the coronavirus crisis so far – but charities have suggested the situation could act as a springboard to end homelessness in the UK.
The LibDems have called repeatedly for the Vagrancy Act, which effectively criminalises rough sleeping, to be scrapped as part of measures to reduce homelessness, in response to housing, communities and local government secretary Louise Casey’s calls last week for a taskforce to solve rough sleeping.
“After years of prevarication it took a crisis to get the Tories to house thousands sleeping rough at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s vital that this support continues in the months ahead, to ensure we don’t go backwards when such progress has been made,” said Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon.
Due to coronavirus, many organisations and governments have become more interested in people’s living conditions and how improvements could reduce the spread of the virus through populations. Rough sleepers cannot isolate themselves from the community to keep themselves (or others) safe.
They have three key “asks” that experts believe could end rough sleeping and destitution in Scotland permanently: prevention, by creating as much housing capacity as possible now and making a long-term commitment to increase the supply of homes for social rent; permanently preventing a return to previous levels of rough sleeping in all areas; and ensuring nobody is made homeless by being evicted, in part by ending avoidable evictions and the threat of illegal evictions.
Patrick McKay, chair of Homeless Network Scotland and operations director at Turning Point Scotland said that they had accommodated and supported all those who “wanted to be indoors” since March, including people with no recourse to public funds such as asylum-seekers. “It is now imperative to secure that progress,” he said.
The collective also presents a framework for offering support and guidance to local authorities, private landlords, tenants, housing associations as well as to support rapid scaling of Housing First across all areas in Scotland. This will provide learning, guidance and tools for quality assurance, support and cost implications, with plans to be refined as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.
More than 20 UK charities work to support people suffering from homelessness. Crisis UK has also responded to Casey’s call to businesses, religious groups and community partners to help provide long-term housing to those who have taken up emergency shelter during lockdown. Some 15,000 people have been provided with a roof over their heads in this way during the crisis, it says.
Jon Sparkes, CEO at Crisis, said this in itself showed the true scale of the issue and the response required to stave off a surge in homelessness ...