Covid-19: Homelessness charities facing ‘unprecedented challenges’

By Emma Bowden, PA

Homelessness charities seeking financial support from the Prime Minister have claimed they could be “overwhelmed” from the spread of coronavirus.

A letter signed by more than 30 charities, including Centrepoint, Depaul and St Mungo’s, said that funding was urgently needed to help with staffing costs during the pandemic.

They also warned that self-isolation or social distancing measures will be difficult to be implement in homelessness accommodation.

The letter, written to Boris Johnson on Friday, says the charities are facing “unprecedented challenges” which will “overwhelm” them without Government support.

Among the key requests was an “urgent package of financial support” for homelessness accommodation services – mirroring grants available to businesses.

The charities also called for all providers to be given personal protection equipment (PPE), including thermometers and access to testing facilities.

The letter sought assurances that all homelessness service providers would be able to access emergency self-contained accommodation, which would allow them to safely self-isolate where necessary.

Seyi Obakin, chief executive of national youth homelessness charity Centrepoint, welcomed £3.2 million of emergency funding by the Government earmarked for helping rough sleepers self-isolate.

But he said there were “significant gaps” in the Government’s coronavirus response.

“The Government has acted swiftly on rough sleeping and, in designating hostel staff as key workers, has ensured some of the country’s most vulnerable people will get the support they need,” he said.

“These are welcome steps but there are still significant gaps in the Government’s response.

“We are already hearing reports of housing offices closing, leaving those who face homelessness , including those being made homeless as a direct result of coronavirus, with nowhere to go to seek support.

“This is unsustainable and will undoubtedly put lives at risk – the Government must provide local authorities with advice on how to safely keep these functions running during the pandemic.”

Mr Obakin also raised concerns that key worker status alone was not enough to guarantee the safety of those working in hostels, calling for PPE similar to that offered to frontline emergency staff.

He added: “This is a fast moving situation and the Government is responding to a crisis on many fronts but, after years of relying on voluntary donations to plug the gap where government money should be, that money is now disappearing, and we now need ministers to recognise homeless hostels are an essential part of the coronavirus response and fund our services accordingly.”