The Government is ending its scheme of housing the homeless and the impact on Cambridge’s homeless community will be huge
Such a U-turn in policy should not go unnoticed and unchallenged
Last week, a leaked report revealed that the government would be putting an end to its scheme of housing the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic, with local councils being told that funding would be cut for the scheme as the Government ‘drew a line’ under it.
The story was relatively minor news and saw little coverage, in sharp contrast with the widespread lauding of its announcement and implementation in March, when it was pledged that £3.2 million would be made available to ensure that all homeless people could be housed in hotels, BnBs or empty apartment blocks.
The scheme itself has had a significant impact on Cambridge’s homeless community. A spokesperson from Cambridge City Food Bank has stated that “since the start of the Covid-19 epidemic we found that homeless people were being housed in various locations including budget hotels. This has led to problems with them obtaining food, but various organisations, including voluntary organisations, have been arranging meals for those in accommodation.”
Angel, a member of the local homeless community, has described his experience: “Since three weeks after the lockdown started, myself and Luna [his sister] are living in a hotel… street homeless all got put in hotels, b&bs… It’s nice to be inside again it’s just a shame that it took a global pandemic for it to happen.”
However, for Angel and other local homeless people, the future is not necessarily secure. Despite being told by the local council that “the outreach team will try and house [them]” post-lockdown, Angel has reasons to be somewhat mistrustful of the council. Their actions in the past have been exposed as specifically and actively cruel towards the local homeless (most evident in their seizing the bedding and possession of homeless people, claiming that these items are abandoned despite knowing that they are not), as Angel himself has drawn attention to in previous ‘Faces of Cambridge’ articles.
Such behaviour seems endemic to a government whose perspective on homelessness has consistently been one of callousness and carelessness. Labour’s shadow housing secretary, John Healey has highlighted that throughout the last ten years of austerity, “local homelessness services have been cut by £1bn a year”, and there has been a loss of 9,000 beds since 2010″. In such a context, the covert abolition of the initially so widely publicised scheme is, sadly, hardly surprising.
— Wintercomfort (@wintercomfort20) May 12, 2020
Yet it isn’t enough to acknowledge the place of such action within this broader trend and so accept it as an unfortunate but unchangeable reality. As some of the most vulnerable members of society, homeless people cannot be expected to revert to life as it was, especially when the pandemic is far from over. Even when lockdown is lifted, social distancing measures will continue to be a requirement and the streets will certainly not be a place of safety for homeless communities.
The removal of the scheme constitutes a heartless abandonment of the homeless, something that is implicitly acknowledged in the surreptitious manner in which the scheme is being dismantled – there is a cruel irony in the encouragement of clapping for the NHS every Thursday evening whilst silently removing assistance for those who need it most, and for whom the government have a fundamental responsibility.
As Angel says, it is a shame it took a global pandemic for such a scheme regarding homelessness to be implemented, and in doing so, the government has somewhat revealed its hand: it has admitted that housing the homeless matters, acknowledged the vulnerability of the homeless community, and crucially showed that action for the homeless has been a possibility for a very long time. Scrapping the scheme now is surely unjustifiable, and the furtive manner in which this is being done is certainly testament to that very fact.
Whilst the consequences of the removal of the scheme will be severe nationwide, the implications will be yet more acute in Cambridge – the UK’s most unequal city according to official sources. Homeless levels are particularly high here, and poverty worryingly entrenched and widespread. In times that are difficult and uncertain for everyone, it is crucial that we do not forget the most vulnerable in our communities and allow a U-turn towards a policy of callousness and carelessness to go unnoticed.
Many of the organisations to help the homeless in Cambridge are volunteer run and donations are greatly appreciated. If you would like to donate to any local homelessness charities please follow the links below:
Cambridge City Council has been contacted for comment.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government told the BBC: “It is simply wrong and misleading to suggest that we have stopped funding to keep rough sleepers off the street.
“We gave councils an initial payment of £3.2m at the start of the pandemic so they could take immediate action and help rough sleepers off the street.
“We have since given councils a further £3.2bn to deal with the immediate pressures they are facing, including supporting rough sleepers.”