The mayor of Greater Manchester has branded the government’s coronavirus rough sleeping policy as “misleading” as it does not provide support for people made homeless during the pandemic.
In a letter sent to housing secretary Robert Jenrick, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said that councils now face “unfunded costs” after being told by the government that it would not fund the support it had provided to hundreds of people made homeless in the past two months.
Mr Burnham wrote: “At the start of the outbreak, we were encouraged to do what we could to develop an ‘Everyone In’ approach and that we would be covered for the costs we incurred.
“We took that to mean anyone who might otherwise be sleeping rough during lockdown.
“However, it was some weeks later that your department explained to us that ‘Everyone In’ only covers people identified as homeless pre-lockdown – not those made homeless during lockdown.”
He added: “Calling this policy ‘Everyone In’ at the start only to define what that means later down the line has unfairly left councils facing unfunded costs.”
On 27 March, homelessness minister Luke Hall wrote to local authorities in England telling them to move all rough sleepers into “appropriate accommodation” by the end of the week.
The government has since announced that more than 90% of rough sleepers known to councils at the start of the lockdown have been offered safe accommodation.
However, frontline organisations have told Inside Housing that hundreds of people remain on the streets, many of whom are newly homeless as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Mr Burnham, the government has made it clear to councils in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) that they should now “draw a line” under the ‘Everyone In’ policy and “start moving people on from the short-term accommodation that has been stood up, much of it in hotels”.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has angrily disputed this claim.
Mr Burnham said that even if GMCA accepted the government’s definition of the ‘Everyone In’ policy, there is still concern that “the level of funding provided is insufficient to meet costs”.
Councils were given an initial pot of £3.2m to help rough sleepers self-isolate during the crisis.
A further £3.2bn has been made available to councils during the coronavirus crisis, however this funding is expected to cover a variety of costs, including homelessness services and social care.
Mr Burnham said: “If we are to ensure a reduction in homelessness coming out of this crisis, and move people from the current short-term placements to more sustainable accommodation, it will need significant funding and policy change.
“The challenge of stepping down this accommodation without sufficient funding support, alongside the ongoing risk of COVID-19, is significant.”
An MHCLG spokesperson said the ministry expects local authorities and partners to continue to work with rough sleepers to offer support and accommodation where possible, particularly prioritising vulnerable rough sleepers, and to provide support to prevent homelessness for those at risk of losing their accommodation.
It added: “It’s wrong to suggest we are stopping funding to keep rough sleepers off the streets.
“The effort to get rough sleepers off the streets during this crisis has been a success by any measure with thousands helped into safe accommodation and the government is clear that councils should continue to support vulnerable rough sleepers.
“The government has provided £3.2bn of additional funding, including a total of £170m for councils across Greater Manchester and the GMCA, to help councils respond to coronavirus – and councils should continue to prioritise rough sleepers with this money.”