What ramifications will continuous lockdowns have on the communities? And how long until we can truly assess the devastation this pandemic has caused? One thing is for sure, if things do not improve over the next few months, a looming eviction crisis is rightfully garnering a lot of attention: thousands of renting households will be at serious risk of eviction. But there is another crisis unfolding that has received very little attention: homelessness and the impact of COVID-19 on future numbers.
Councils typically try hard to provide shelter to bring people in from the cold. These programs are essential for preventing people from suffering and even dying outside, especially through the winter months. This year, people experiencing homelessness already are struggling with diminished shelter capacity and, for large portions of the UK, winter is already here. The battered economy will surely prove a catalyst for increasing numbers of homeless people and rough sleepers.
COVID-19 will limit congregation in crowded shelters
The risk of the spread of COVID-19 in shelters for the homeless is very high as it is difficult to ensure that the shelters remain COVID-19 secure. Shelters must equally practice social distancing and continue to provide an environment that is COVID-19 secure. But this is proving a serious challenge with confined shelters used to house maximum numbers forcing more people on the streets in an effort to decrease numbers to control the spread of the virus through social distancing.
The government has been informed that a fresh round of funding is essential to avoid homeless people this Winter facing a choice of rough sleeping on the streets as temperatures plummet, or risking exposure to COVID-19 in unsafe night shelters.
Concern is also growing among charity workers that homelessness will rise in the very near future without a clear commitment from the government.
Responses from the Government and charities just haven’t been enough
A major response to the situation during the pandemic was for jurisdictions to secure hotel rooms to provide people experiencing homelessness safe, temporary housing. This strategy has certainly helped isolate people who were symptomatic and provided shelter to people in high-risk groups, such as older people or those with pre-existing medical conditions that could make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
Efforts to secure hotel rooms were necessary, charities have come together to do whatever they can also, but the combined effort is still not fulfilling the reality on the ground.
What can we do to address the situation?
The simplest way to deal with a lack of shelter capacity is to quickly house people. Rent assistance resources from aid and relief funds would provide a temporary solution over the winter months helping to re-house people experiencing homelessness in shelters and hotels. It would give them a place to live safe from COVID-19 and the cold.
We will also need to address the gaps in shelter by keeping hotels open or by expanding shelter in other ways. One silver lining is that people experiencing homelessness dislike congregate shelter facilities, citing lack of privacy, rigid rules, and harm to already marginalized groups, including people of colour and people from LGBT communities.
But right now, there are not enough shelter options of any kind. In the absence of shelter, people will be forced to live outside. A wave of evictions would prove disastrous, likely necessitating the growth of these types of strategies. If the government fails to provide urgent aid and support at the earliest, we will no doubt witness a real increase in the numbers of people who really will have nowhere to go.