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News in Brief 128: Sep – Oct 2020

November 01 2020

Our round-up of what‘s been happening...

Forced out

Some readers of the Pavement may have caught Ross Kemp’s Living With ‘Forced Out’ Families on ITV in early July. Many will be all too familiar with the subject matter. The show demonstrated English councils systemic, continual breaking of the law when relocating homeless people. Councils regularly relocate homeless people outside of their borough, failing to notify the borough they are sending them to. Local authorities moving homeless people are legally obliged to inform the council they move them to, in order to arrange support structures such as medical, educational and social support.

The documentary identified at least 60 councils in England breaking the law requiring them to notify councils they send homeless people to. The leader of Basildon council in Essex, Gavin Callaghan, said the council had to send people to northern cities for accommodation, because the housing stock in his authority had been bought up by richer London councils. An exasperated Callaghan told Kemp: “58% of the time we [Basildon council] haven’t been notified when people have been moved into the borough”. Birmingham received the most homeless people from other councils, with 44 different councils relocating 370 households to the city.

Sleep-in success

Back in May 2019, the Big Sleep Out campaign raised more than £50,000 for the Cornerstone Day Centre in Hulme, Manchester. The Covid-19 pandemic required organisers to change the format this year, with participants asked to spend the night at home, but not sleep in their beds.

The ‘sleep-in’ was again organised in support of the Cornerstone shelter. A couple of days before the sleep-in on 10 July, Lorraine Cumbo, Service Manager at Cornerstone Day Centre, told the Manchester Evening News that the fundraiser “increases awareness of homelessness in Greater Manchester and the devastating effects of isolation and marginalisation”.

Turning a Cornerstone

A partnership between Coventry City Council (CCC) and the social enterprise group Cornerstone Partnership is bearing fruit. The partnership aims to get homeless families into secure, permanent residence, and recently occupied its 100th property in the West Midlands. Meanwhile, Coventry Live report the group’s partnership with CCC has seen 83 properties made available in the city. Homes under the scheme are rented for a minimum of 12 months, with rent set at the Local Housing Allowance rate. CCC entered the agreement in an attempt to wean itself off the extortionate and ineffectual policy of using temporary accommodation to house families.

What next?

With lockdown’s gradual relaxation beginning the end of emergency accommodation for thousands of homeless people, councils across England needed to think up ways to house a growing population of people without permanent, secure residence. Liverpool City Council (LCC) hoped to have found a way to house 300 homeless people in July. As the Pavement went to press, homeless people and rough sleepers in the city were waiting on a decision by the LCC’s cabinet to appropriate vacant properties in the city for new accommodation.

Liverpool Express detailed the council’s plans to repurpose the city’s housing allocation scheme to prioritise the homeless population leaving lockdown emergency accommodation, with more than 200 properties being made available as of early July.

Community effort

Reuters report that at least 2,000 homeless people have been housed in shelters across the South African city of Tshwane. Numerous shelters were swiftly established once South Africa went into lockdown, being variously run by community members, charities and the government. The shelters have provided relief beyond simply providing beds. Medical staff are on hand at the majority of shelters in the city, offering support and medical services to drug users. Michael Steyn, a homeless man with a 25-year heroin habit, has spent the lockdown in a shelter providing opioid substitution therapy. At the shelter he has managed to kick his addiction, saying he now: “Feel[s] stronger and want[s] to help others feel this way”.

News cycle

Cycling Scotland have been busy during the Covid-19 lockdown, and not just because everybody and their dog appear to have taken up cycling. Staff at the national cycling organisation have been working up a sweat delivering meals on wheels, among other essential supplies, to homeless people and asylum seekers temporarily housed in Glasgow’s hotels. According to Scottish Housing News (SHN), two cyclists from a team of nine have spent every weekday of lockdown from April 8 dropping off PPE, clothing, sanitary products and toiletries at hotels and B&Bs across the city. SHN report the cycling team have amassed more than 290 deliveries and clocked up 800 miles between them during lockdown.

Grant giveaway

Supermarket chain Morrisons sent grants to numerous homeless charities in Glasgow, as part of a wider charitable drive which has seen the supermarket award grants worth £560,000 to 94 separate charities, as of mid-July. Glasgow Evening Times reported Shelter Scotland, The Wheatley Foundation and Simon Community Scotland had all received grants from the Morrisons Foundation’s ‘Covid-19 Homeless Support Fund’. Simon Community Scotland received a grant for £8,000, with director of services and development Hugh Hill praising Morrisons, for “helping us [Simon Community Scotland] reach more people, fund clothing, food, toiletries and mobile phones”.

Hotel Caledonia

In stark contrast to Westminster policy, Scotland promised homeless people in lockdown emergency accommodation that they wouldn’t be forced on to the street once lockdown was eased. The announcement by the Scottish government, reported by the Daily Record, arrived in July, as hotels in the UK started welcoming new customers. Earlier that month councils in Scotland were informed by the Government that they would not have extra funding to house homeless people in hotels beyond August. However, only a few days later funding for indefinite hotel stays for homeless people was ring-fenced by the Scottish government. Announcing the funding Local Government, Housing & Planning minister Kevin Stewart said, “Our priority is to ensure no one returns to rough sleeping following the pandemic”.

Lockdown meals

Shout out to Richie Roncero at caring for people who are homeless and those suffering with addiction, who has been busy in Edinburgh offering three-course meals and pizza at Monday Munchies and Sunday Suppers. There’s also a wagon serving burgers and a Sunday night hostel.