Last spring, when the first national lockdown was announced, the ‘Everyone In’ initiative was enacted. This was hailed as one of the government’s few successes in relation to the covid-19 pandemic, as it took roughly 29,000 rough sleepers off the streets and helped them start to move into more long-term and safe accommodation.
The campaign was massively successful and had reportedly ‘ended rough sleeping overnight’. Furthermore, in regard to the huge amounts of money paid out by the government in its furlough scheme and ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ it was a comparatively cheap scheme. This kind of immense response to homelessness is what charities like Crisis and others have been campaigning for a long time. As well as saving lives it also made the case that homelessness is not an insoluble problem.
However, the scheme has been scaled back since May despite the government’s insistance that the Everyone In scheme is ongoing. The reality simply is that there are still too many people on the streets. What seems particularly harsh is that this new lockdown is more perilous for rough sleepers: a more transmissible, deadlier strain of covid-19, coupled with colder temperatures. Both risk an unacceptable loss of life, and the decision not to reinstate the initiative in full has been described as an ‘abdication of responsibility’.
Over the course of the pandemic, 70,000 households have found themselves homeless. With the dire economic situation the pandemic has created, many more could be at risk of becoming homeless.
Unemployment is, in some areas, at its highest level in 25 years, and evictions are likely to start again once the lockdown is over.
What is needed is to reboot the Everyone In scheme fully again, and provide extra funding to stop homelessness occurring in the first place.
This is a tall order, but a necessary one. The homelessness charity Crisis estimated in 2018 it would cost roughly £10bn to end homelessness for good. Overall, the government totality of spending is barely even a fraction of this. Ironically, the problem of homelessness has exploded since 2010, which corresponds to the introduction of George Osborne’s austerity measures.
Rough sleepers are one of society’s most vulnerable groups. They are also sadly burdened with misconceptions about them. A persistent fallacy is that they are often drug addicts or alcoholics, and as such to give them money is to feed their addiction.
In reality, homeless people have often just slipped through the cracks of society and the welfare state. It is not due to some moral deficiency or failing. In the same way we judge a tree by its fruit, we must learn to judge a society by how it treats its most vulnerable.
At the time of writing, the temperature outside is 3 Celsius, but the wind chill factor makes it feel like 0. Tonight, it is forecast to feel like -4 Celsius. Sleeping on the streets is a terrible plight and has no place in a society as rich as ours. Homeless people have been forsaken by the government this lockdown. What is perhaps even more embittering is the government’s earlier burst of compassion, which proved homelessness can – indeed, must – be solved.
Image via Wikimedia Commons