UK’s homeless one step closer to permanent accommodation

By Cristina Alonso

London, Apr 20 (efe-epa).- Around 1,000 rough sleepers in London have been housed in hotels and apartments during the coronavirus pandemic, in a move that could bring many of them closer to having a permanent home.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced the move on Sunday and said more than 1,000 homeless Londoners were self-isolating in hotels and other safe locations.

“Rough sleepers will not be overlooked in our fight against Covid-19,” he said.

Homeless people are particularly vulnerable when it comes to coronavirus.

Many have preexisting conditions that make them more susceptible to getting seriously unwell and are more exposed to the virus as isolating is difficult, according to the Centre for Homelessness Impact.

Paul Atherton, a 52-year-old filmmaker who has lived on the streets for 10 years, had been sleeping at Heathrow Airport for two years until he was relocated a couple of weeks ago alongside almost 200 others.

Atherton said the move could be the first step in the Housing First programme, which seeks to give homeless people a roof over their heads without first having to use an emergency shelter or transitional housing systems.

The Intercontinental Hotels Group has reached an agreement with authorities in London to offer more than 1,300 rooms to the homeless.

“As well as accommodation, they are provided with food, support and – for those that need it – medication,” the IHG communications department told Efe.

The goal in the coming months is that those who have been rehomed will be provided with adequate housing after the lockdown, according to Rick Henderson, executive director of Homeless Link, a national umbrella organisation for homeless services.

“What will be key in the coming months is that people brought in are not returned to the streets, but that the funding is in place to provide suitable housing and support to enable those sleeping rough to end their homelessness for good,” Henderson said.

From an apartment hotel in Marylebone, in the London Borough of Westminster, Atherton told Efe he feared many people would sleep rough again once the outbreak is over.

“Hotel accommodation isn’t long term accommodation,” he added.

“Therefore when rates return to normal there is a strong chance that everyone will simply be returned to the streets as before.”

He said he hopes that “if the press continues telling our stories as they have of late and indeed they change public perception on the issue, there is a good chance we can finally end homelessness in the UK”.

“For the first time ever, we can see through the nonsense of money, economics and greed,” he added.

“Our entire way of life has changed, albeit momentarily, and it allows us to completely change how we do things.”

Despite the London programme, there were still many people on the streets.

More than 3,600 people slept outdoors in London in the last quarter of 2019, according to official figures provided by the Combined Homelessness and Information Network.

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