Some of Britain’s top LGBT+ homeless charities have urged the government not to ditch a vital emergency housing scheme amid a third national lockdown.
As another lockdown paralyses England until at least mid-February, the government is yet to confirm if it will provide rough sleepers with shelter as part of its Everyone In scheme, as it did previously.
The emergency measures, first introduced in March 2020, saw the government require local councils in England and Wales to provide accommodation in budget hotels to every person living on the streets.
It was quickly hailed a success, offering more than 90 per cent of known homeless people a place to stay in just two months, according to government statistics.
But the scheme, first provided with £700 million in funding, has not yet been given any additional funding for the third lockdown, officials confirmed to the i newspaper.
Unease spread among LGBT+ homelessness campaigners, with akt, a charity that supports queer homeless youth, noting it has already seen a surge in the number of referrals.
With around one in every four homeless young people identifying as LGBT+, akt told PinkNews their “disappointment” that the government has yet to take action.
Charities warns of ‘spike’ in LGBT+ homelessness.
Lucy Bowyer, director of services at akt, told PinkNews: “We know how vital a lifeline this was for people struggling during the first two lockdowns.”
Bowyer echoed what LGBT+ homeless advocates have warned since the scheme first started – that the rippling economic upshots of the coronavirus will lead to a surge in homelessness, especially among queer teens.
“akt saw a substantial spike in young people presenting to us as rough sleeping after being kicked out of their family homes or having to flee dangerous homophobic, biphobic or transphobic situations,” she said.
“We’ve also seen young people facing unemployment, rent arrears and financial instability and being evicted despite the eviction ban.
“This led to a staggering 118 per cent increase in new referrals from April to August 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.”
The neglect of homeless people during winter months has never been as dangerous.
Other homelessness charities expressed concern direct at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), the government agency that is responsible for sheltering citizens and community planning.
“The neglect of homeless people during winter months has never been as dangerous as 2020/21,” said Carla Ecola, director of the Outside Project, an LGBT+ community shelter and grassroots advocacy group.
Ecola said that to not continue the Everyone In scheme would “cause many deaths”, noting that “the MHCLG applauded themselves for Everyone In being responsible for saving lives of homeless people during the lockdown in spring”.
Stonewall Housing, a specialist LGBT+ housing advice provider, said in a statement that any “reduction in accommodation support for rough sleepers during a national pandemic” would be “shocking news”.
“It is not just the traditional image of rough sleepers who are at risk but people who would otherwise be sleeping on a friend’s sofa are now excluded and facing life on the street due to the lockdown rules.
“We know the LGBT+ community will be hard hit by this news. ”
Government officials confirmed to the i that their £15 million Protect Programme, a scheme launched November last year to boost housing efforts, will continue. This will be on top of the £91.5 million allocated to councils to fund local rough sleeper protection plans and a £10 million Cold Weather Fund.
Homelessness was, even before the coronavirus, a spiralling crisis in Britain, with advocates noting that the number of rough sleepers has increased by 141 per cent since 2010.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government told the i: “The government has taken unprecedented action to support the most vulnerable people in our society during the pandemic – backed by over £700m in funding.
“We continue to work closely with councils and health services to provide this support.”