19 May 2020

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is putting forward a £40 million fund for homelessness hostels and women’s refuges to transform their facilities and help keep residents safe from the spread of Covid-19.

After it was found that around half of London hostel residents shared bathroom facilities with other people – with four per cent of bed spaces in shared rooms – the Homelessness Change programme is set to allow hostels to redesign how they operate and make it easier to maintain social distancing.

It’s expected that, with no end to social distancing requirements in sight, many organisations will be looking to make permanent changes to how their hostels function including remodelling communal spaces and adding en-suites where possible.

Khan said: “The coronavirus pandemic has changed so much about how we all live our lives. The most vulnerable Londoners need our support at this time more than ever.

“That’s why I’m delighted that the Homelessness Change programme is able to deliver vital funding to help hostel providers to improve their accommodation.

“Projects funded by this programme in the past have made a substantial and sustained difference to the lives of homeless Londoners and I am confident this funding will have an equally significant impact as we all adjust to a new post-Covid-19 world.

“As part of that adjustment, we also need the Government to provide the ongoing funding and support necessary to ensure that we can apply the Mayor’s ‘In for Good’ principles to the people we have helped off the streets into safe accommodation.”

The funding programme has already boosted creative responses to the English capital’s homelessness crisis from refurbishing hostels to building new refuges for domestic abuse survivors, having previously supported the likes of St Mungo’s, the YMCA and Veterans Aid.

Rough sleepers are much more likely to have underlying health conditions than other parts of the population, meaning it’s crucial they can access safe accommodation that protects them from the spread of the virus. Around 1,300 homeless people are currently housed in hotels across the city after Khan announced that rough sleepers were to be taken into a place of safety just before the lockdown was implemented.

Dr Tom Coffey, Mayoral Health Advisor, said: “This virus presents unique challenges to those working with rough sleepers and I’m pleased to see that the Mayor is making significant funding available to help providers keep homeless Londoners safe and healthy.

“Homeless people need support now more than ever so remodelling and refurbishing hostels to comply with the new Public Health England guidance should be a top priority.”

Dr Hugh Milroy,  CEO of  Veterans Aid, said: “A few years ago a financial development contribution from the GLA helped VA to complete a re-development of its own £8.4m facility for homeless veterans in East London – hailed by the Mayor as an ‘inspirational’ model. Thankfully this modernisation went a long way towards enabling us to meet present challenges and, as a result, all current residents are safe and well in a state-of-the-art facility.

“In tandem with this, Veterans Aid has remained operational throughout lockdown. Looking ahead, however, I foresee significant problems if funding is not made available to support existing and newly homeless individuals. All parties must use the crisis as an opportunity to build a future that enables us to permanently rid the streets of the scourge of homelessness.”

Last week Big Issue founder John Bird demanded answers from the Conservative government on their plan to ensure rough sleeping rates never return to what they were pre-pandemic.

During his Lords debate, he pressed Lord Greenhalgh, Minister of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to confront the “cocktail of social failures” that led to thousands of people forced to sleep on the streets of Britain before some were taken into the temporary accommodation Khan is looking to help remodel.

It followed an announcement earlier this month that Dame Louise Casey will spearhead a new taskforce tasked with finding long-term homes for people once they are able to leave the hotels, hostels and other short-term homes where many are currently housed.

Source: The Big Issue