Written by Miriam Morris, Executive Director, Church Homeless Trust
Winter is coming…
And it is going to be a very hard one for homeless people in England.
At the start of World Homeless Week, the wind is blowing the leaves off the trees and it is raining hard. Winter is coming and all around us the earth is offering us the last of its fruits in preparation for the bare season to come. Creatures are preparing their nests for hibernation, just as we humans are preparing for varying degrees of lockdown in the months ahead. Those without shelter or resources will find it very difficult to survive.
At the beginning of the first lockdown the Government acted quickly to bring rough sleepers off the streets with their ‘Everyone In’ initiative. Around 6,000 people were housed in hotels. The majority of them really benefitted from having a secure place to sleep, eat and wash, along with the other medical and personal support they received.
Sadly, Government funding for this initiative stopped in July, instead money was promised towards finding permanent accommodation for these people. It seems that around half of the rough sleepers are now back on the streets.
Meanwhile, a new wave of homelessness hit the streets. People working in pubs, hotels and restaurants lost their jobs, were unable to pay their rent, and lost their homes. Our empty town centres became home to people who had never been homeless before. They were in shock and the services that could have helped them: food-banks, drop-in centres, even public toilets, were all closed.
Over the summer the number of homeless people on my local high street doubled. This is in keeping with national statistics. But now winter is coming and being on the street is not just a matter of fear, hunger and boredom; it is a matter of life and death.
Every winter emergency night shelters run by churches and community groups provide life-saving shelter to at least 6,000 homeless people. Annually they have provided the charitable equivalent to the Government’s ‘Everyone In‘ scheme. This year because of social distancing rules, and because many of their volunteers are elderly, most of these shelters will be closed.
Winter is coming, and who will provide life-saving shelter to those already on the streets, and to those who are soon to join them?
Many, many more people are likely to become homeless in the next few months.
Businesses are having to contend with changing rules and local lockdowns. Many now know that they will not be able to operate until next Spring, and that they cannot survive until then. The Institute for Employment Studies estimates that there will be a million COVID-related redundancies by the end of the year.
At the same time, the generous government support for workers who can’t work is being wound down. Many of the self-employed didn’t get any support anyway.
Half of the population have no savings at all. Nearly five million households are borrowing unsustainably in order to make ends meet. Around a million people were relying on foodbanks before the pandemic, these numbers are growing.
And the ban on evictions has ended, with 55,000 eviction notices already served and 590,000 households in arrears.
The winter is coming, and yet we have failed to learn the lessons from nature. Just as we are entering the hardest time of year, and the most testing phase of the virus, we should protect and support. Now is the worst time to cut the life-line.
The support early on in the pandemic, the promise to ‘do whatever it takes’, has been replaced by an understandable desire to reduce expenditure. But at what cost?
Once people become homeless it is very hard to get back on track. They find it hard to work, and their children don’t do well at school.
If they qualify for help, they may live in costly and inadequate accommodation at the tax payer’s expense for years while they scrape together the money to pay their accrued rent arrears and save a rent deposit.
If, like most single homeless people, they don’t qualify for help, they may live on the streets for years until eventually their health requires constant (expensive) attention.
Those of us within the homeless sector are very concerned about what this winter will bring. At Church Homeless Trust we are already seeing an increase in applications from people who are newly homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Across the country, churches, community groups and charities are not able to meet this demand. We will do our best, and please do what you can to help us…
But we must also call upon Government to come up with a plan to see us through this winter, or we will be dealing with the consequences for years to come.