Cambridge student petitions to end rough sleeping

When the government absolves responsibility for the most vulnerable

The COVID-19 pandemic has patently revealed our government’s capacity to tackle homelessness in our nation. In March, councils were granted funding to provide emergency shelter for England’s homeless.

The ‘Everyone In’ scheme is paradoxically excluding more by the day, as the £3.2 million state funding has been silently withdrawn. Without a ministerial statement to ascertain this decision, rough sleepers are confronted with extreme uncertainty and vulnerability.

Emma Ekon, a first year at Magdalene was prompted to petition our government after she witnessed the implications of this termination. 

“During the past few weeks I have been volunteering at charities for rough sleeping, Rhythms of Life and Passage, in which I have essentially participated within the government’s new scheme of ’Everyone In’. I have prepared and packaged food to be sent to hostels and BnBs and delivered it to the accommodation. I have seen how this scheme greatly aids the work of charities and restores dignity to the lives of rough sleepers.

In recent weeks, since the news that the government were due to end the scheme, we have been faced with questions on the door about what would happen now that government funding was running out.”

“Those feelings of helplessness and panic caused by these encounters is behind this petition as I realised there were none that aimed to retain the Everyone In scheme in some form.”

Photo credit: Andrew Faris

Emma volunteered under the leadership of Andrew Faris, a former rough sleeper who is now Chief Executive of Rhythms of Life. Faris’ chief concern is the patent negligence of MPs to directly tackle issues of homelessness within their own constituencies, yet by charitable donations are giving the pretence of proactivity.

To him, it is inconceivable that the protection of our homeless is not regarded as the responsibility of our government.  The very existence of homelessness charities exposes a dire deficiency in our government’s approach to welfare. 

“We at Rhythms of Life believe it is the government’s duty to feed, educate and most importantly house the homeless. The problem with the government is that there’s no long-term policy. Plans are made every four years during the election phase but not for solving problems over a longer period of time.”

“Rhythms of Life gets zero funding from the government yet they should be working closely with charities like us prioritising homelessness. Charities like us are out on the street every day of the year whilst the government seems to be blind to the problems outside their offices.”

A ‘sleeping pod’ is gratefully received by a rough sleeper; should this be the standard of provision? Photo credits: Andrew Faris

The immediate aim of the petition is prolonging the ‘Everyone In’ scheme. Such a sudden cessation endangers the livelihood of rough sleepers, both physically and mentally. This rapid transition from personal security and virus protection to homelessness and unmitigated exposure to COVID-19 is nothing short of deeply distressing. 

Moreover, the petition is urging the government to consider similar policies and schemes, now proved to be attainable. This entails not merely continued funding but forging contacts between the homeless and their community as well as enacting regionally-specific measures.

The relaxation of distancing measures cannot correspond with the revocation of welfare. The virus is still seizing lives and is a palpable public health risk. What’s more these unique circumstances have fatefully undermined the myth of ‘unfeasible’ welfare measures for the homeless.

The petition takes less than a minute to sign, yet has the capacity to better many lives.

For further information upon homelessness in Cambridge, check out the Faces of Cambridge page.

Featured image credit: Trinny Cook