Capacity in homeless shelters could plummet by as much as two-thirds due to social distancing regulations, experts have warned, leaving many rough sleepers without shelter during winter.
With a growing number of people left homeless due to the economic impact of the Coronavirus crisis, charities and councils alike are looking into ways to provide them with accommodation over the winter.
Night shelters are still closed in line with government COVID-19 guidance, and charities fear if they reopen they will only be able to house a small portion of those they previously could.
Many hotels used as homeless accommodation during the initial lockdown have returned to business as usual, and charities are calling on ministers to provide guidance and funding to help them house vulnerable people as temperatures outside fall and Coronavirus rates rise.
Housing Justice, the national membership charity for night shelters, said social distancing would see winter shelter capacity plunge by around two-thirds, meaning fewer than 1,000 beds would be available through its network.
Housing Justice chief executive Kathy Mohan said last winter they provided more than 2,600 beds and supported over 9,000 people.
In previous years, the organisation has used dormitory-style shared rooms, but this year it is looking to offer either private rooms or self-contained pods within larger rooms.
“It is certain that cold weather night shelter projects will offer significantly fewer beds this winter – in many cases where shelters can run they will look very different to what has gone before,” said Mohan.
“[It would] present huge challenges for local authorities and homelessness services as they seek to plug this gap in provision, particularly at a time of severe economic hardship, and the likelihood that homelessness presentations will increase.”
In order to stay COVID-safe, Housing Justice says it will need to rent more space and employ more staff, meaning the cost of running most shelters will triple in cost – from around £25,000 for three months to £65,000.
Lucy Abraham, chief executive of homeless charity Glass Door, said: “The challenges of the new COVID world have forced us to adapt, to come up with new and creative ways to provide shelter and support.”
Abraham added: “Of course, implementing a brand-new service model will be both costly and complex to implement – at a time when traditional fundraising has become more and more difficult.”
At the height of the pandemic, rough sleepers were given shelter in hotels and other accommodation through the government’s Everyone In scheme – which saw £3.2m spent on getting people off the streets.
Housing, communities and local government secretary, Robert Jenrick, said at the time that the government had successfully taken 90% of homeless people off the streets to protect them from the virus.
But figures collated by outreach workers, published by the Greater London Authority (GLA), showed numbers of rough sleepers rose by a third during lockdown compared with the same period last year.
A Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government (MHCLG) spokesperson said:“As winter approaches, we are also working with the homelessness sector and health experts to consider how shelters can reopen as safely as possible where they are needed.”
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