THE Government has announced £3.2 million of emergency funding for local authorities to help rough sleepers self-isolate and prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
The funding will be available to all local authorities in England and will reimburse them for the cost of providing accommodation and services to rough sleepers or individuals at risk of rough sleeping.
This initial emergency response funding will help councils offer support to people who are unable to self-isolate, such as those staying in night shelters or assessment hubs, as well as those who are currently sleeping rough.
The £3.2 million comes in addition to the £492 million that the Government has already committed for 2020-21 to support the end of rough sleeping.
The communities secretary Robert Jenrick said: “Public safety and protecting the most vulnerable people in society from coronavirus is this government’s top priority. We are working closely with councils and charities to ensure they have the support they need throughout this period.
“The initial funding that I’ve announced today will ensure councils are able to put emergency measures in place to help some of the most vulnerable people in our society to successfully self-isolate.”
The Government has already announced a raft of measures during last week’s Budget to tackle the effects of the virus, including a £5 billion COVID-19 respond fund and a £500 million Hardship Fund so councils can support economically vulnerable people and households.
The Government described the new emergency funding as an ‘initial first step’ to help councils and frontline services put emergency measures in place for coronavirus, saying that it will work with local authorities to keep it under review.
Under the fund, local authorities will be able to claim back costs incurred from government. Each local authority will be given a provisional maximum amount it will be entitled to claim back from the fund, calculated based on the number of rough sleepers the authority reported in autumn 2019.
In addition to the £3.2 million of funding, Public Health England (PHE) has also released guidance for staff and visitors of hostels and day centres explaining how to handle suspected cases of coronavirus.
The guidance includes advice on what centres and hostels should do if they have had a confirmed case of COVID-19 or if anyone develops symptoms of the virus; how to use shared spaces like kitchens and bathrooms where individuals need to self-isolate; and special considerations for drug and alcohol users who may be more vulnerable to the virus’ effects.
Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England said: “People sleeping rough are often in poor health and are particularly vulnerable. That’s why this funding is so important, ensuring that rough sleepers who get symptoms have somewhere safe and protective to stay, and helping to prevent the spread of the infection.”
The announcement of the £3.2 million emergency funding has been welcomed by local authorities and housing charities. However, many have urged the Government to take a more co-ordinated approach with homelessness services set to come under even greater pressure in the wake of the outbreak.
Councillor Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Community Wellbeing Board, said: “Council staff continue to work day-and-night to support national efforts to minimise the spread of the coronavirus and protect and support communities, including our most vulnerable.
“We are pleased that the Government has announced that councils will receive emergency funding to support rough sleepers to self-isolate, as part of a wider package of support, and we look forward to working with the Government on the detail to ensure councils’ costs are fully covered.”
While describing the Government’s recognition of the need to help rough sleepers self-isolate as an ‘important step’, Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “Leaving each local council to decide how they respond is a piecemeal and insufficient approach.
“What we really need is a coordinated plan from national Government to ensure people experiencing homelessness have immediate access to appropriate housing during this outbreak.”
The government should also ban evictions and offer renters additional financial support through Universal Credit to prevent homelessness soaring in the wake of COVID-19, Sparkes added.
Polly Neate, chief executive at Shelter, called the emergency funding ‘extremely helpful and welcome’, but added that the government must give councils additional funding to support homeless families living in shared temporary accommodation.
Currently it is ‘very hard… if not impossible’ for families in such accommodation to be able to self-isolate as they are often forced to share spaces with strangers or live in a single room, Neate said.