A spotlight on homelessness: COVID-19's impact a year on
- Credit: Yui Mok
Last January, the Comet ran a special series on the issue of rough sleeping in Stevenage and North Herts. 12 months on, we are assessing the situation today.
This time last year, we reported that rough sleeping in Stevenage had risen by 63 per cent in 2018/19.
This prompted Stevenage Borough Council to implement a five-year plan to combat the crisis, centred around prevention, home building and greater provision of temporary accommodation.
So how have things changed? As we entered our first lockdown following the outbreak of coronavirus, quick fixes were put in place - some people were placed in temporary accommodation while others were put up in hotels.
The move has been repeated by both of our local authorities during the third, most recent national lockdown.
In North Herts, the district council has confirmed that 128 households are living in temporary accommodation, 48 of which are predominantly single adults in hotels.
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Stevenage Borough Council is currently housing 176 people in temporary accommodation, and the total number of B&B and hotel cases is 58.
Cllr Jeannette Thomas, executive member for housing, said: “Stevenage Borough Council is continuing to house rough sleepers and those presenting as homeless in the same way as we have done since March 2020. We are providing advice and support to all those who need it."
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In January last year there was an estimated 210 people rough sleeping in Letchworth, Hitchin and Baldock.
Reflecting on the situation in North Herts, Councillor Sean Prendergast, deputy executive member for housing, said: “Since the beginning of the pandemic we have worked continually to make sure that anyone in North Herts who found themselves homeless and living on the streets, was offered accommodation and assistance to ensure their health and safety during this hugely difficult time.
"The long-term aim is to resettle these residents in their own accommodation, primarily in the private rented sector, helping to prevent individuals and families from ending up back on the streets.
“Currently we have 128 households in temporary accommodation, 48 of which are predominantly single adult households placed in hotels.
"There are two people who are homeless that have refused repeated offers of assistance and our specialist outreach service, provided by homelessness charity Haven First, continues to remain in contact with these individuals and is supporting them remotely.
"We urge anyone who either finds themselves in the situation of being homeless or at threat of being made homeless, to get in touch with us to seek support and assistance.”
As the pandemic continues to impact people financially, the government imposed that landlords must give six months notice of their intention to evict tenants.
The government also extended existing legislation to ensure bailiffs do not serve eviction notices, except in the most serious circumstances. This legislation will be in place until at least Sunday, February 21.
In November 2020, homeless charity Crisis published its report following a study into the impact the pandemic has had on homelessness across the UK.
It said: "The research has shown the positive effect of clear government polices to ameliorate the impacts of the pandemic on homelessness. The pause on evictions has prevented large numbers of people coming forward who are at risk of homelessness from the private rented sector and the survey with voluntary sector organisations highlighted very few presentations from this group.
"The divergence in policy on evictions across Great Britain going forward is an area that needs monitoring.
"Across Great Britain local authorities were concerned about the new profile of people at risk of homelessness who are part of the furlough scheme and have been accumulating rent arrears."
As always, our charities have been working hard to help those in need, from Haven First to Feed Up Warm Up.
Feed Up Warm Up has continued its vital work throughout the pandemic - offering its drop-in in Stevenage and Hitchin, while also taking food parcels to those hit hard financially by the pandemic.