They said it couldn’t be done.

They said it would take at best two years and at worst seven years to end rough sleeping.

Election manifestos hedged their bets to win votes on this fundamental issue with little recognition that it is totally unacceptable to have people sleeping on our streets in 2020.

Politicians viewed these people as numbers, not individuals with their own unique stories.

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Eastern Daily Press: Dr Jan Sheldon, chief executive of St Martin's Housing Trust. Picture: St Martin'sDr Jan Sheldon, chief executive of St Martin's Housing Trust. Picture: St Martin's (Image: Archant)

However, on Thursday, March 26, in an attempt to slow the spread of Covid-19 Luke Hall, the minister for local government and homelessness issued an instruction to house everyone rough sleeping by the end of the week. This was (on the whole) achieved in most areas.

It required super human effort and a significant degree of partnership working. People who have been entrenched in their rough sleeping behaviours have, for the first time in many years, been living in accommodation for almost a month.

Through access to washing facilities, a bed, clean clothes, regular food and specialist support we are starting to see the real person evolve from a catalyst of despair. People are starting to look healthier than they have in years and are showing tiny green shoots of hope for the future.

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What happens next will demonstrate the true colours of government, their levels of compassion and whether they really do care about people who are sleeping rough. When the crisis is over and social distancing rules are relaxed what will happen to those people who have started to take baby steps on their road to recovery and a better life?

When hotels want their rooms back and people return to a new version of normality will the people in those rooms be dispatched to the streets again?

Will they have their hopes of recovery and a better life dashed or will our government grab the opportunity to end rough sleeping?

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Will someone in government remember that sleeping rough is never a life ambition and will they act to make a difference?

Undoubtedly the challenge will be greater in some areas than others. However, look what was achieved in less than 48 hours a month ago. At the moment we have the luxury of time. Time to look at each person as an individual, make a plan with them and, equally, time to find more accommodation.

That time is a gift and needs to be used wisely, right now, not tomorrow or next week.

We are reminded by John F. Kennedy that when written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters, one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity. Let’s not waste the opportunities which have arisen out of a crisis. Let’s take this opportunity to end rough sleeping on our streets right now. It can be done.

Dr Jan Sheldon, chief executive of St Martins Housing

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