In March of 2020 the Everyone In scheme to temporarily house rough sleepers in self-contained accommodation during the first wave of the pandemic, including in newly deserted hotels and hostels, was implemented. About 15,000 rough sleepers were housed in the following months,
The homelessness charity Crisis called it extraordinary, while others lined up to congratulate the government on its unusually bold course of action to shelter thousands of society’s most vulnerable people. An article in the Lancet estimated that the measures prevented more than 21,000 infections and 266 deaths. Simply put, Everyone In saved lives.
Yet by early June, it was reported that funding had been withdrawn; the government pointed to the £3.2bn given to local authorities to deal with the fallout of the pandemic (though none of this figure was specifically given over for homelessness). In September, £91.5m of government funding was split between 274 councils for their own rough sleeping plans. This was eventually joined by £10m announced on Friday. But it remains to be seen what effect this approach will have compared with the straightforward, fully funded initiative that made such a difference in spring 2020.
UK’s network of winter shelters faces difficulties as they scramble to provide Covid-safe accommodation. Every winter sees a spike in avoidable deaths among homeless people, as temperatures plummet. In 2021, the threat isn’t just from the cold but a new variant of Covid-19.
Homelessness in all its forms has skyrocketed since 2010 under various Tory administrations. Austerity has butchered welfare and community services. And though the newly announced extra funding is better than nothing, new figures compiled by the Observer show that more than 70,000 households have been made homeless since the start of the pandemic – despite the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, pledging in March 2020 that “no one should lose their home as a result of the coronavirus epidemic”. It is clear proof of a failing “strategy” masked by sporadic U-turns and hurried concessions.
The end of the eviction ban may have been kicked down the line again until February, redundancies are soaring and the number of young people sleeping rough in London stands at a record high, as do the numbers of deaths among homeless people in England and Wales.
Though the Everybody In scheme didn’t “solve homelessness”, and had its imperfections, it was clearly effective, in part because of its clarity of purpose.