Homelessness in a pandemic
The first lockdown saw greater fear and uncertainty, but since the second wave the most down-trodden in British society have been largely forgotten.
When one thing is constantly dominating our lives and the headlines it is easy, and perhaps forgivable, to forget about the other troubles present in our society. However, what is less forgivable is the wilful ignorance and subtle obscuring of people’s plights, and this is the only way to describe the government’s current treatment of the homeless. Already the most ignored group of people who are scurried past and hastily rejected on a daily basis, rough sleepers are being left to worry not just about the cold, but the coronavirus as well.
On 26 March 2020, shortly after the start of the first lockdown, the government announced the ‘Everyone In’ policy. Local councils were instructed to provide emergency accommodation to all rough sleepers and people living in hostels or shelters, and were given £3.2 million to do so. They were tasked with getting thousands off the streets in just a few days; a tall order, but one that was risen to. Approximately 15,000 were rehoused in empty apartment blocks and hotels, a number that apparently prevented 266 deaths. This massive effort and positive results therefore proved one simple and salient thing: there is no good reason for homelessness in this country to be so severe. Steps can be taken, straightforward solutions put in place, and rough sleeping can be diminished.
However in May, despite assurances from the government that the ‘Everyone In’ policy was still up and running, homelessness charities stated that local councils had retreated back to their pre-pandemic criteria, which only provides sheltered accommodation to families with children or people with a specific vulnerability. What’s more, the mismanagement of lockdowns and the economic ramifications of closures have led to a new wave of homelessness and a 21 per cent increase of rough sleepers in London alone (11 per cent of which was young people).
homeless people are not being considered among the clinically vulnerable and are being given no options
Companies such as the Big Issue, who provide aid for the homeless, have had to stop selling their papers and The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s plan to house all rough sleepers by 2024 has been put on hold. All of this during the Winter months and the most snow we have seen for years. This quiet scrapping of helpful measures is just another way of sweeping the problem of homelessness under the rug and allowing these people to face the winter and the pandemic alone.
Not only are they left without shelter but also without assurances of health. Rough sleepers are more likely to have underlying health conditions and therefore more likely to be susceptible to coronavirus. With a life-expectancy of almost half the average for British citizens, they count as some of the most vulnerable in society. It is this fact that makes the concealment of them all the more shocking.
With vaccinations well underway homeless people are not being considered among the clinically vulnerable and are being given no options by the government. In spite of this, however, some local governments such as Oldham and Liverpool have defied government guidance and offered vaccines to over 500 of those in sheltered accommodation. With that in mind, it is possible to see a path of improvement for rough sleepers and encouraging to know that they are still being considered amongst all of this confusion. However, until serious attention is given to them and the key reasons for their situations, places like London will continue to be one of inopportunity and hardship.