This blog series accompanies our webinar in partnership with Housing Justice.
Coronavirus has completely changed the way homelessness in the UK is experienced. At the same time, it has dramatically altered the church’s capacity to respond to the needs of people experiencing homelessness in their communities this winter.
As we’ve heard time and time again, we are living in ‘unprecedented times’ – adjusting to a ‘new normal’. Homelessness is not exempt from this, and neither is the church’s response to it. Coronavirus has fundamentally altered both the reality of homelessness for those experiencing it this winter and Government policy surrounding it, with significant consequences for churches and community groups as they attempt to respond.
In this blog series, Homeless Outreach in the Winter of Covid, we will explore the practicalities of this changing landscape. This week, we’ll be exploring the situation so far: policy change and experiences of homelessness, and reminding ourselves why it’s important for churches to be involved in this kind of outreach. Next week, we’ll provide a run-down of the webinar and some practical tips for homeless outreach this winter. After that, we’ll be looking at the future of outreach and steps we can take to end homelessness entirely, rather than simply providing a temporary solution.
How has Coronavirus affected homelessness?
Before the pandemic hit earlier this year, the UK was in the midst of a rough sleeping crisis. Since 2010 there has been a 141% increase in rough sleepers, and Shelter found that, in London, 1 in 52 people were homeless last year.
Then the pandemic hit.
Research shows that Covid-19 and policy surrounding it has led to an increase in people in precarious housing, and as a result experiencing homelessness. Centrepoint show that more than three in four councils had seen increases in homelessness in their area since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
What has the Government done in response?
In response to the pandemic, the Government launched their ‘Everyone In’ campaign in March. Alongside £3.2 million in funding for local authorities, this campaign saw the Government ask local authorities to provide emergency accommodation to rough sleepers, people who were living in shelters with shared sleeping arrangements, and those at risk of rough sleeping as an emergency response to the growing crisis.
As of May, the Government reported that 14,610 people had been provided with emergency accommodation through this program, meaning around 90% of rough sleepers were housed.
Significantly, the housing of rough sleepers prevented the spread of coronavirus among a community that simply would have been unable to isolate, quarantine, or seek the medical care they might have needed. The housing of rough sleepers this year prevented an estimated 266 deaths.
Alongside this, the Government announced the suspension of evictions in March, as a response to calls for further support for renters affected by the pandemic. After two extensions, this drew to a close in September, replaced by a new 6-month notice period for evictions till March 2021. During this current lockdown, the Government has again suspended enforcement activity by bailiffs – but hasn’t banned evictions entirely.
Following these initial responses, the Government established the ‘COVID-19 Rough Sleeping Taskforce’. The task force set out ‘to ensure that as many people as possible who have been brought in off the streets in this pandemic do not return to the streets’. But the Chair of the Taskforce stood down from her position in August, and there is still some uncertainty on who will take it forward.
Most recently, in October the government announced funding to support rough sleepers during winter, including £10m Cold Weather Payment for councils, and £2m for faith and community groups to provide accommodation and support.
Sadly, already we have seen a gradual increase in homelessness as the longer-term effects of coronavirus emerge. In September, the Government began evicting families whose applications for asylum had been unsuccessful during the pandemic months. This process will affect around 3,000 cases, many of whom are not eligible for state support due to their immigration status, and so will again become reliant on third sector and faith organization support.
Proverbs 14:31 says
Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker,
but those who are kind to the needy honour him.
There are many injustices in the world today, but few are so stark and clear in our everyday lives as the housing and homelessness crisis. Supporting those in unstable housing or people who are rough sleeping is a clear way to be kind to the needy. As Christians, we follow a God of justice who calls on us to follow Him in the journey of losing the chains of oppression and loving the poor, practically as well as spiritually.
thank you that you bring Good News to the poor,
and that you love justice.
Thank you that you are our hope for the future,
even when it may seem bleak.
Be with those who are without a place to call home this winter.
Protect them, comfort them, draw near to them.
Guide those with power, that they wouldn’t oppress the poor,
but that they would be kind to the needy,
as that is how we honour you.