Greater Manchester councils have made a herculean effort to house the homeless during COVID-19.
But smaller areas were far less equipped than cities to deal with rough sleepers – and concerns are that a broken economy could mean more homeless people coming their way.
That is the conclusion of a survey of all 10 local authorities in the region by charity Homeless-Friendly, who are deeply concerned for the health of rough sleepers who are back onto the streets. They are also asking: “With such limited resources, what will happen to the homeless during the next pandemic?”
The good cause posed three questions to local authorities via Freedom of Information requests. They asked what resources councils devoted during the Coronavirus to provide shelter, what attempts they made to reach homeless people during lockdown and whether or not they followed Government Guidelines on housing rough sleepers.
The results showed:
• All 10 had provided additional accommodation including hotels, with Oldham spot-purchasing more if needed, Trafford utilising local B&Bs and Stockport providing 121 units of temporary accommodation with microwaves
• Almost all had a dedicated outreach team, with some visiting “known areas” for homelessness every day and most working with partner agencies to identify and support homeless people
• All followed Government and Greater Manchester guidance with some such as Tameside, holding daily briefings
But while Manchester had long-established links with local charities, a street kitchen, and mobile phones for rough sleepers to use, smaller councils had far less provision.
Homeless-Friendly was formed after concerns about the health of rough sleepers and has engaged hundreds of NHS surgeries, hospital A&E units, hospices, out-of-hours services and businesses.
The Government allocated £3.2 million of additional funding to house the homeless in hotels at the beginning of March. That scheme has now finished. Economic strife is already beginning to bite and fear of catching COVID has prevented homeless people from gaining healthcare.
Dr Chauhan concluded: “There are some pretty dire predictions about how virulent the virus could become during the traditional flu season of October and November. What will happen this time? Will the Government again find additional resource? And even more importantly, what are we doing long-term to solve homelessness? Our charity was forced to ask for donations to put together COVID-19 protection kits for rough sleepers after the Government refused our petition to provide these. In emergency and non-emergency times, they have to do so much better and mirror the kind of dedication showed by Greater Manchester councils.”