As the weather is turning, we are preparing to support homeless people during the cold winter months. COVID-19 has seen City of London resources deployed in different ways and has forced a change to the planning we would normally have in place at this time. As Deputy Chair of the City’s Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Committee I’ve stressed the importance of a pan-London approach.

Our COVID-19 emergency hostel at Carter Lane has, at the time of writing, 43 guests. We have a further 10 rough sleepers accommodated in hotels, and several more in supported accommodation and temporary accommodation – all part of our response to the pandemic.

Rough sleeping levels are currently lower than we have seen in recent years – largely due to the success of our COVID-19 contingency measures. Night-time street audit, or snapshot figures, indicate an approximate 50% reduction from the same period in 2019/20. On 26 October, 23 rough sleepers were recorded bedded down. Quarterly data for the number of unique individuals contacted demonstrates a similar fall – a 41% reduction between Q2 2019/20 (181) to Q2 2020/21 (105).

But with new immigration rules, the status of EU nationals changing imminently and the economic fall out of COVID-19, we must prepare ourselves for more people becoming homeless. The City of London has committed £11.4 million to invest in our services and to help end homelessness and rough sleeping, but our immediate focus is now the upcoming cold winter – we do this together with the Greater London Authority through initiating an emergency provision (called SWEP) when required.

At time of writing, the City of London SWEP provision for 2020/21 is as follows:

  • Crimscott St Hostel (Providence Row Housing Association) – two spaces in supported accommodation
  • Carter Lane (Providence Row Housing Association) – two to five bedrooms depending on capacity at the service at the time
  • Great Guildford Street Hostel – one bedroom
  • Pre-booked hotel rooms – as many as required

Brexit…

But there is another challenge local authorities across the country are facing: How do we support vulnerable homeless people who are EU nationals in the New Year? If they don’t apply (and receive) for settled status in time, it will become extremely difficult for local authorities to continue to support them.

In the City of London we have around 130 EU national sleeping rough each year (around 25% of the total of rough sleepers). It’s expected that most of them will not apply for settled status – often due to their chaotic lifestyles or lack of documentation. The government is planning to stop funding and make these vulnerable people illegal.

In the City we are putting plans in place to fund a supported reconnection programme to help, but this will only go so far. It would cost an additional £1.1 million to fully support rough sleepers into accommodation. But if the government isn’t changing its approach, Brexit will impact some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

In addition, new immigration rules have come into force that punish non-UK nationals for rough sleeping. While the UK Government have said that this policy will be used sparingly, it does mean that people who are legally in the UK, and who have fallen on hard times, may face deportation. This should not be happening.

Homeless charity Crisis has started a campaign to change the current approach.

You can support and sign their petition here.