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The number of rough sleepers identified for emergency help during the coronavirus pandemic was eight times greater than official estimates, Whitehall’s spending watchdog has found.
Officials working on the Everyone In scheme to find accommodation for those at risk of being left on the street relied on a survey which found that 4,266 people slept rough, the National Audit Office said.
But between the end of March when the scheme was launched and November 2020, auditors said that 33,139 people participated in the scheme.
The figures have been disclosed as homelessness campaigners demand an urgent reboot of the government scheme in England to provide safe shelter for rough sleepers.
A report released on Thursday has also found that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government rough sleeping strategy to house all those on the streets by 2024 has been put on hold as officials dealt with the pandemic.
Meg Hillier MP, chair of the public accounts committee, welcomed the success of the Everyone In scheme but warned that the government must now find a new strategy if the government is to achieve its goal of ending rough sleeping by 2024.
“MHCLG, local authorities and the voluntary sector all rose to the challenge. Their staff went the extra mile and may have saved hundreds of lives. And two thirds of people supported by Everyone in have since moved into long-term accommodation.”
“However, MHCLG can’t rest on its laurels and it was caught off guard by just how many people needed help. Now rough sleeping is on the rise again, and the pandemic is far from over,” she said.
The Everyone In campaign, which asked local authorities to immediately house rough sleepers and those at risk of rough sleeping to protect their health and stop wider transmission of Covid-19, was launched on 26 March.
Despite not having a contingency plan for protecting the rough sleeping population in the event of a pandemic, officials adopted a hands-on approach to work with local authorities, homelessness charities and hotel chains, the report said.
Auditors said that local authorities expect to spend around £170m this financial year rehousing rough sleepers in response to the pandemic, paid for by a combination of emergency government grants, existing homelessness funding streams, and their own resources.
A total of 23,273 people had been supported to move into the private rental sector or another form of settled accommodation, the report found, and 9,866 people remained in hotels and other emergency accommodation.
Covid-19 claimed relatively few lives among the rough sleeping population in England in the first wave.
Up to June 2020 16 deaths among homeless people had been linked to the virus, the report said. One study suggests that Everyone In may have avoided more than 20,000 infections and 266 deaths overall.
An MHCLG spokesperson said: “Our ongoing Everyone In programme has protected thousands of rough sleepers from Covid-19, so we are pleased the National Audit Office recognises its achievement.
“By November, we had supported around 33,000 people, with nearly 10,000 in emergency accommodation and more than 23,000 in longer-term accommodation.
“We recently announced an additional £10m to help accommodate rough sleepers and ensure they are registered with a GP to receive the vaccine, and we will invest £750m next year as part of our commitment to end rough sleeping.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Covid: officials underestimated number of rough sleepers in England needing help | Homelessness