Rough sleepers and those at risk of homelessness will benefit from a winter fund totalling £12m, the government has confirmed.
Announced by Housing secretary Robert Jenrick, £10m will come from the Cold Weather Fund and £2m will be allocated to faith and community groups – though some critics say the combined funding doesn’t go far enough.
The government says the Cold Weather Fund will support councils to get rough sleepers off the streets and help them into “self-contained accommodation”.
The announcement comes less than a week after a group of leading charities and healthcare professionals warned that if the government did not take urgent action, it would lead to the deaths of rough sleepers.
The £2m for faith and community groups will help them to “provide secure accommodation for rough sleepers”.
The government says these measures will help councils build on their existing plans to protect people over winter, which have been supported by the £266m Next Step Accommodation Programme.
“As we approach winter, we are focusing on the best way to protect rough sleepers from the cold weather and Coronavirus,” said Jenrick.
“The funding and guidance I’m announcing today will mean that, working with councils and community groups, some of the most vulnerable people in society are given support and a safe place to stay this winter.
“The government is spending over half a billion pounds to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping this year alone, and working with our partners, some of the most vulnerable people in our society have been helped into accommodation or other support during the pandemic – and we are accelerating plans for thousands of new homes.”
Kelly Tolhurst, minister for Housing and Rough Sleeping, added: “Winter is clearly a dangerous time for people who sleep rough.
“These extra measures will help to protect this vulnerable group from life-threatening cold weather, as well as the risk of contracting COVID-19, and also provide them with support into move-on accommodation.
“The work councils, providers, and the NHS has done since the start of the pandemic has saved lives, and through this extra funding we will continue help them to rebuild their lives – part of our commitment to end rough sleeping for good.”
Kathy Mohan from Housing Justice said: “Cold weather shelters in this country are predominantly staffed by volunteers and often operate on tiny budgets.
“These are people motivated purely by the desire not to walk by on the other side of the street while someone is affected by homelessness in their community.
“During the first wave of the pandemic, shelters reacted phenomenally, working around the clock until they were able to safely transfer guests to self-contained accommodation.
“We are pleased the Night Shelter Operating Principles are here, and more than 150 organisations who provided night shelters in the last year have the facts they need to make tough decisions on their operations this winter.”
Rick Henderson, chief executive of Homeless Link, said: “We welcome the new £2m Transformation Fund, which we will be administering to provide funding to voluntary and community sector groups to transform spaces and make more self-contained emergency accommodation locations available.
“This funding will be essential to groups that usually operate on extremely tight budgets, enabling them to provide appropriate support for people sleeping rough over the winter.”
Read more on homelessness in the UK:
- £11m modular homes scheme assembles first units for London homeless
- Rapid rehousing centres to replace homeless night shelters in Scotland
- UK Housing Review warns of inability to meet post-COVID housing needs
Winter fund ‘falls short’
However, a number of charities and Labour say the government’s winter fund doesn’t go far enough, also criticising the reopening of night shelters.
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “This funding falls short of the bold action we need to keep people sleeping on our streets safe this winter.
“Back in March, the government rightly decided that night shelters and hostels were not a safe environment for people during the pandemic.
“It’s completely unacceptable that this approach should now change as we go into winter when the threat remains the same.
“We must not force people to choose between freezing on the street or a shelter, when both needlessly put lives at risk.”
He continued: “We urgently need the government to see sense on this matter and keep winter night shelters closed.”
Shadow Housing secretary Thangam Debbonaire pointed out that the promised £12m was less than the £13m available in the cold weather fund in 2019 – before the pandemic.
“It is extraordinary that, during a global pandemic that is exacerbated by cold weather, the government has given less…than last year,” she said.
“As we enter a second COVID spike, the government’s failure to prepare for a winter homelessness crisis risks lives and public health.
“We need strong leadership from the government to keep its promise to end rough sleeping for good.”
Are you a social housing professional? Sign up for a FREE MEMBERSHIP to upload news stories, post job vacancies, and connect with colleagues on our secure social feed.