‘Everyone in’: Councils told to house homeless people by the weekend
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Norfolk councils and charities are scrambling to house rough sleepers after fears over the spread of coronavirus sparked a national edict to get the homeless off the street and out of shelters.
The government’s homelessness advisor delivered a personal message to all local authorities in England on Thursday and commanded councils to “get everyone in” by this weekend.
Dame Louise Casey said all ”communal night-shelters and any street encampments” must be “closed down for the time being” and described them as “high risk zones” for the spread of Covid-19.
It comes as the UK’s death toll reached a new high of 759, after a further 181 deaths were recorded by lunchtime on Friday, March 27.
The government is yet to confirm whether police will be given additional powers to detain homeless people who do not wish to be housed, but it is understood those who decline housing will be “advised that this is unlawful”.
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Luke Hall, minister for local government and homelessness, told local authorities: “Our strategy must be to bring in those on the streets to protect their health and stop transmission, particularly in hot spot areas, and those in assessment centres and shelters that are unable to comply with social distancing advice.”
He also advised, where possible “separating people who have significant drug and alcohol needs from those who do not”.
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The government has announced a package of support for councils worth £1.6bn, including £3.2m in funding specifically to help rough sleepers self-isolate.
And councils and charities across Norfolk have scrambled to comply with the order, despite being given just a day’s notice to clear the streets.
A spokesperson for Norwich City Council said: “Since the outset of the coronavirus crisis, we have been working to rapidly adapt services for anyone facing homelessness or sleeping rough in Norwich so they can be protected from the spread of the virus.”
The council has secured 40 new temporary accommodation units, via its homelessness service, Pathways, and other businesses, but said while it would be able to house all the city’s homeless by the weekend, for as long as necessary, they could not guarantee everyone would accept its offers of accommodation.
Enforcement would be a matter for public health and the police.
Breckland Council also confirmed it would be able to house rough sleepers ahead of the deadline.
A spokeswoman for King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Council said the council had discussed the edict with the government and was seeking to house its homeless population in a Travelodge.
A North Norfolk District Council spokesman (NNDC) said: “We are offering accommodation solutions to all rough sleepers.
“They will be housed in accommodation we can source, local B&Bs, and self-contained units throughout this period.”
He added: “Local authorities have been awarded additional funding, and are able to apply for additional funding if needed. Homeless people who do not wish to be housed would be advised that this is unlawful.”
Norwich homelessness charity St Martins said it was working with the city council to ensure beds were provided to all who needed them.
A spokeswoman said: “Those who have been sleeping in the city centre in recent weeks have seen the streets emptying and the city shutting down all around them.
“Some of the people we talk to know very well how vulnerable they are.”
The charity has also been distributing hand sanitiser, tissues and medical information, as well as mobile phones.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said: “We are working intensively with councils to get everyone who is sleeping rough off the streets and into appropriate accommodation, backed by £1.6 billion of additional funding for councils to respond to pressures during this national emergency.”