The National Audit Office (NAO) has praised the Ministry for Housing, Communities, and Local Government (MHCLG) for “swiftly” providing emergency accommodation for rough sleepers during the first wave of COVID-19.
The NAO said the Everyone In initiative, which was launched in at the start of the pandemic in March, was effective in its “hands-on” approach to working with local authorities, homelessness charities, and hotel chains.
By mid-April 2020, the report notes, 5,400 people had received an offer of emergency accommodation; and by the end of November, over 33,000 people had been helped through Everyone In.
The NAO also notes that the number of people accommodated under Everyone In over several months “far exceeded” the number of people recorded as rough sleeping in the government’s annual ‘snapshot’ of the rough sleeping population.
In autumn 2019, it was estimated that 4,266 people were sleeping rough on any given night, compared with over 33,000 people who were helped by Everyone In.
A total of 23,273 people had been supported to move into the private rental sector or another form of settled accommodation, and 9,866 people remained in hotels and other emergency accommodation.
Issues to address
However, the NAO response also highlighted certain issues that it says need to be addressed if the government is to achieve its goal of ending rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament.
The report read: “The government has an election manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping by May 2024.
“In February 2020, the Department was preparing to carry out a review of its Rough Sleeping Strategy in light of the new target, but due to the prioritisation given to Everyone In, this did not take place.
“There is an ongoing need for a review of the strategy as it is out of step with the government’s target to end rough sleeping by 2024, and there are important lessons from Everyone In to consider.”
Rough sleepers typically experience poorer health than the rest of the population and are especially vulnerable to respiratory illnesses.
Those at risk of rough sleeping may also occasionally sleep in communal shelters, where they cannot self-isolate if they have symptoms of COVID-19.
Local authorities expect to spend around £170m this financial year rehousing rough sleepers in response to the pandemic, paid for by a combination of emergency government grants, existing homelessness funding streams, and their own resources.
In January 2021, MHCLG announced it was making an extra £10m available to support local authorities to provide accommodation to people still sleeping rough.
“It remains to be seen if the approach taken in winter 2020-21 will reduce the risk of the transmission of COVID-19 among rough sleepers as decisively as in spring 2020,” the report reads.
Commenting on the report, NAO head Gareth Davies said: “In partnership with local government, and the voluntary and private sectors, the government acted swiftly to house rough sleepers and keep transmission rates low during the first wave.
“Despite this considerable achievement, the response raised key issues for government to address.
“For the first time, the scale of the rough sleeping population in England has been made clear, and it far exceeds the government’s previous estimates.
“Understanding the size of this population, and who needs specialist support, is essential to achieve its ambition to end rough sleeping.”
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