In some ways, the Coronavirus crisis has changed everything. You could say that it’s forced people, organisations and governments to re-prioritise, to do many things differently, less of other things and much more of what’s needed most right now.
With homelessness, the implications are profound. On one hand, we need to not move people around, to minimise physical contact and keep people inside. Hence the government preventing people from losing their tenancies for three months: we need people to stay where they are.
For people vulnerable to homelessness that may mean getting support to remain in their accommodation, to sort out finances and other needs and to cope with this difficult time. If people are in tenancies, that’s ideal; if they’re in temporary accommodation, it means it’s suddenly less temporary.
Ordinarily services would want to support people into temporary accommodation and out again into somewhere of their own fairly quickly, freeing up that temporary place for someone else. (That’s when people stop being homeless, when they have a place of their own.) But right now that’s harder as we shouldn’t be moving people unless it’s vital. That means that many people in accommodation are staying there. They’ve got somewhere to be and it should be safe.
But it also means that those temporary places are no longer available for ‘new’ people, at the same time when many landlords and agents are understandably following the same advice and not moving people in and out of settled accommodation (tenancies). So, for people who are homeless and don’t have anywhere to stay, there’s much less accommodation available.
The government has rightly said that people should not be sleeping rough right now (if they should ever be), so there needs to be accommodation for all of them, too. And people shouldn’t be in shared rooms, so night shelters that have provided space for people using shared rooms have to close. That means many people needing accommodation where they can have their own rooms. Obviously, that’s something we’d always want for everyone; achieving it is harder.
But Plymouth, like other areas, has worked hard to do that, partner agencies – including the Council – taking on properties and providing support for people. It’s been a huge but successful task.
It doesn’t mean that there’s now no one sleeping rough. There are always people who reject or walk out of accommodation, for whom – we might say – we haven’t yet found the right answer. But there is constant work to help everyone.
Then there are all the people who have been sofa surfing or in other accommodation where the lockdown makes it harder for them to stay there: we’re seeing more people presenting as homeless all the time. So we need accommodation for them, too, a range of people with different lives and different needs.
Again, Path and partner organisations are working hard to provide accommodation, both by negotiating with willing landlords and by taking on more properties, ourselves, so that we have places for people.
It’s an intense time. Not everything is sorted out, by any means, and new challenges keep presenting. But in Plymouth, probably like every area, there’s a lot being done by local services to accommodate and support people, homelessness, housing and also health services working together.
Once this is over we need to be able to keep what’s worked and to keep that focus on having an offer for everyone.