The government has reaffirmed that local authorities must provide “safe and appropriate” shelter to thousands of rough sleepers in England this winter, regardless of immigration status.
A cabinet letter released this week urges authorities to offer housing and a Covid vaccination to individuals sleeping rough, even those who cannot access public finances.
Shelter, a homeless charity, said some authorities refused help to asylum seekers last year because they were deemed ineligible for homelessness assistance.
Shelter's CEO, Polly Neate, said the letter "finally" defined the legislation and mandated municipalities to house everyone sleeping rough amid the current Omicron outbreak and freezing winter weather. During the pandemic, the government developed a programme to stop rough sleeping.
“Despite the ‘Everyone In' initiative saved lives and removing thousands off the streets, not everyone was helped,” said Neate. “We know from our own services that overburdened councils turned individuals away”.
Earlier this year, a court found in favour of Timon Ncube, a homeless former asylum seeker who was rejected housing by Brighton and Hove City Council because he was not qualified for homelessness assistance. Court found council could legally assist him in a public health emergency.
Thousands of people slid through the safety net provided by the Everyone In scheme during the first 14 months of the pandemic, new data shows, largely because they distrusted authority and were reluctant to ask for help.
Its 138 frontline member agencies serve needy asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants without recourse to state subsidies.
Despite high levels of emergency statutory provision during Covid-19, 2,771 people sought NACCOM members owing to homelessness.
During the epidemic, NACCOM community researchers studied the needs of homeless travellers. ”You are grappling with the need for refuge, but hesitant to seek for help,” they wrote.
The study revealed that charity helped people who couldn't get help from the government, including 1,886 unemployed, 829 refused asylum seekers, and 564 refugees. Another 493 were non-EU migrants. During this time period, NACCOM members slept 413,089 nights.
“Thousands of individuals unable to get secure housing during the Covid-19 crisis, when there was emergency help in place, is genuinely shocking,” said Bridget Young, NACCOM's director.
In spite of the government's emergency support for homeless individuals during Covid-19, our data demonstrates that people nonetheless fell through the cracks due to their immigrant status, putting them at danger of harm from Covid-19.
Ewan Roberts of Asylum Link in Merseyside said some of the people they work with are too scared to seek mainstream help.
“Despite the increase in Covid infections, evictions continued in September,” Roberts noted. We had a client call late yesterday, panicking about being evicted: with the Christmas shutdown, he may become homeless and cut off from mainstream services.
"The unfriendly environment is a barrier for those with insecure immigration status seeking support from the government during the pandemic," said Lauren Scott, director of Refugees at Home.
“Trust must be earned. In the face of unfavourable environmental legislation, building relationships is difficult.
As a result of their immigration status, people unable to get statutory homelessness help should be supported by local authorities. It should be possible to accommodate rough sleepers in an emergency situation, such as a threat to life.
With £2 billion over three years and £800 million this year we are providing £2 billion to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness,” he said in a statement.