The Government has asked local authorities in England to house all rough sleepers and those in hostels and night shelters by the weekend, the charity Crisis said.
The letter, sent to homelessness managers and rough sleeping co-ordinators in every local authority on Thursday, is quoted by the charity as saying: “As you know, this is a public health emergency.
“We are all redoubling our efforts to do what we possibly can at this stage to ensure that everybody is inside and safe by this weekend, and we stand with you in this.
“These are unusual times so I’m asking for an unusual effort. Many areas of the country have already been able to ‘safe harbour’ their people which is incredible. What we need to do now though is work out how we can get ‘everyone in’.”
The charity said the letter was sent by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which is yet to comment.
Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said: “The Government’s insistence that everyone sleeping rough should be housed by the weekend is a landmark moment – and the right thing to do.
“Questions remain about how local councils will be supported to do this, and whether additional funding, or assistance securing hotel rooms, will be made available.
“We also need to see a package of support so that, when the outbreak subsides, the outcome is not that people return to the streets.
“The Government has committed to ending rough sleeping by 2025 – this proves it can be done in 2020 if we make it the priority it deserves to be.”
Offer to come inside
The letter, seen by the PA news agency, was written by Government official Dame Louise Casey, who said in conclusion: “It’s important for the welfare of both homeless people and staff or volunteers that all communal night shelters and any street encampments are closed down for the time being.
“These communal settings, as you will be aware, are high-risk for spreading coronavirus.
“We know that this is not a perfect system, and in time we can take stock and work together to consider how best to continue this support for rough sleepers, but for now the priority is to ensure that everyone, all individuals across the country, have an offer to come inside.”
To get “everyone in” by the weekend, Crisis says the Government should launch a national appeal for accommodation, which would include empty apartment blocks and hotels.
And it should provide funding so councils can pay for the upfront costs of getting everyone into accommodation.