When coronavirus took hold last year, thousands of people sleeping rough were helped off the streets under the “Everyone In” campaign, undoubtedly saving lives. Extra funding and extraordinary efforts by the government, councils and charities meant 37,000 people were found a bed – some in hotels or B&Bs, others in hostels.
But you can’t end homelessness with a temporary bed – that requires a lasting home. Somewhere you can afford to stay for more than a few months. Somewhere that is safe and where you can get the support you need.
“Everyone In” protected people at a crucial time, but its success can never be sustained while councils remain paralysed by the desperate shortage of permanent homes. This was already the case before “Everyone In”, and it’s even more the case now.
When hotels started to re-open, the government asked councils to move people on to more sustainable accommodation. So, just over a year on, have councils succeeded?
The good news is that an estimated 8,600 people who were initially helped (23 per cent) have moved into “settled accommodation” – somewhere they can stay for at least six months. This is a major achievement.
But what about the rest? Despite the efforts made, our new FOI data shows that over three quarters – an estimated 29,000 people – haven’t moved into a settled home. More than one in five (22 per cent) were still living in emergency hostels or B&Bs, facing an uncertain future. And nearly 9,000 people were no longer being accommodated at all. Worryingly they may well have returned to a dangerous life on the streets.
Social housing used to provide secure homes with low rents for those needing them most. People could settle, they could put down roots, get a better education or a better job, safe in the knowledge they wouldn’t have to leave. But in recent decades government budgets for social housing have been slashed – and we’ve all but stopped building these life-saving homes. We now demolish or sell more social homes than we build each year.
In the absence of social housing, private renting or insecure sofa-surfing arrangements are what many people on low incomes have been forced to rely on. But private rents have risen, and tenancies have become less secure as demand has surged. The private market simply cannot – and will never – provide the homes we need.
Against this backdrop, it’s not hard to see why councils have struggled to find homes for the people brought in under “Everyone In”. Councils are facing impossible decisions on who gets a home and who doesn’t. Even before the pandemic, there were over a million households on social housing waiting lists in England. The shortage of homes has become so bad that most people don’t have a chance.
Thousands of the people helped off the streets over the past year have sadly ended up stuck in limbo in emergency accommodation, not knowing when they’ll be asked to move on. And with the extra funding now running out and councils returning to business as usual, many people will be forced back out on the streets.
Not only is the lack of genuinely affordable social homes undermining attempts to give those temporarily accommodated during the pandemic a permanent home – it’s also the reason that so many people are tipped into homelessness in the first place.
The government has committed itself to ending rough sleeping by 2024. If that ambition is to become a reality, it is going to need a proper plan to build the homes we need and the money to back it up. Otherwise, I’m afraid the cycle of street homelessness will only continue, and we will slide back to pre-pandemic levels.
The past 17 months have shown us what can be done if there’s enough political will. Getting thousands in off the streets was a crucial first step. Now they need somewhere to live.