Branch Secretary :

Unite homelessness workers warn of rough sleeping disaster

Rough sleepers asked to move in with family


Housing minister Luke Hall has written to local councils asking them to put in place plans to support rough sleepers as the lockdown restrictions are eased. He suggests that people who have been rough sleeping people should be asked to move in with friends or family. Anyone who could make such a proposal has no understanding of the problem of rough sleeping!


Unite members in homelessness organisations have worked long hours on the front line while ministers have been in comfortable officers or at home to get people off the streets. Now they are being told to work at emptying the hotels that have been filled with former rough sleepers without adequate ‘move on’ accommodation or time to resettle people. By the end of the month thousands could be back on the streets.


Lack of trust


It was never the case that all rough sleepers had been found a bed, not even the 90% the government claims. Some, with no recourse to public funds have been refused access. This legacy of the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy deepens the heath crisis.


Some rough sleepers avoid contact with services due to lack of trust – this is not unfounded given the disgraceful and unlawful sharing of information between the Home Office and services such as St Mungo’s which, speaking for St Mungo’s workers, Unite campaigned against.


Warning of disaster


As people in sectors such as hospitality have been made redundant and then homeless, numbers in these groups on the street have increased.  Nevertheless, the success that was achieved by the programme shows that the problem of rough sleeping could be solved with adequate funding and effort.


Currently our members working with rough sleepers are being asked to empty the new hostels in hotels - they warn this could result in a rough sleeping disaster.


Rough sleeping not a natural phenomenon


Jack Jeffery, who works with rough sleepers and is Unite housing workers branch secretary commented,


There is growing anxiety amongst the people we have found beds for in the crisis – and a sense of hopelessness among people on the street: the fear is that the government will simply dump people onto the street instead of helping them to find affordable secure homes. Homelessness agencies fear they will have no adequate help for clients with the most challenging needs. And workers fear that much of the benefit from their emergency efforts will be wasted.


We need an assurance of ongoing funding now, stable funding and a reversal of cuts, plus a commitment to building secure and truly affordable social rent homes. Rough sleeping is a scandal; it is not a natural phenomenon like the weather, it is the product of policy narrowly focussed on profits rather than social need.


No reply


The government commitment to £52 million over 4 years for visiting support to 16,666 rough sleepers is hopelessly inadequate compared to the scale of the task. That is to accept for a moment the government’s current figures, before the pandemic it claimed just 4,266 slept rough. In February, the BBC reported that 28,000 slept rough.


No really reliable figures are available, but it is clear that government has underestimated the scale of the crisis and the pandemic has intensified the drivers of rough sleeping. It is also noteworthy that the UK statistics authority has written to the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government calling on them ensure statistics are published in a format which is available to all, with definitions and limitations explained.


In a recent visit to a homelessness centre with housing minister Jenrick, Boris Johnson boasted his plan to expand Housing First by 6,000 beds would "eradicate homelessness". However, when pressed that this didn't even match the 9,000 hostel beds lost since 2010, he had no reply. There have been to many empty announcements from the government on rough sleeping.


Extend current funding


We call for:


  • Extension of current funding - allow time for new arrangements.


  • Convert some of the new homeless hotels for long term use for rough sleepers – they increasingly house most high needs people, given state of hospitality sector makes sense.


  • Restoration of cuts since 2010 - and increase in services.


  • Increase in supply of genuine affordable housing which means council homes.



Unite has repeatedly highlighted some key facts on rough sleeping and homelessness:


  • Bed spaces in accommodation services aimed at helping people off the street fell from 43,655 in 2010 to 34,900 in 2018 -  a fall of nearly 9,000.


  • Spending by councils on single homeless people fell by 53% between 2008/09 and 2017/18.


  • Total spent by local authorities on homelessness services has dropped by £1bn in total in a decade.



June 4th 2020


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