Rough sleepers to be offered accommodation during coronavirus pandemic, Cambridge City Council have revealed

PUBLISHED: 13:12 25 March 2020 | UPDATED: 13:13 25 March 2020

Beth Hunt (pictured), says she has been sleeping rough in Cambridge for around five years. Picture: SUBMITTED

Beth Hunt (pictured), says she has been sleeping rough in Cambridge for around five years. Picture: SUBMITTED

Archant

Every rough sleeper in Cambridge will be offered accommodation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cambridge City Council made the announcement on Tuesday evening (March 24), almost 24 hours after the Government said it would enforce stricter rules to keep people in their homes with limited exceptions.

Cambridgeshire police, asked how it would enforce the Government’s new measures in relation to rough sleepers on March 24, would not comment.

In a statement outlining Cambridgeshire Police’s position on implementing the Government’s new rules, chief constable Nick Dean said: “We enjoy a great relationship with our communities and of course we wish to build on this during these difficult times.

“Nationally we are working with the Government to understand how, should we need to, enforce these new restrictions, however enforcement has to be the last resort. We will do everything possible to advise people on the guidelines and why they are so important to keeping us all safe.”

A spokesperson for the force said they would not clarify if fines would be issued to rough sleepers at this time.

Cambridge City Council says it has identified some of its own properties and is in discussions with housing associations, hoteliers, bed and breakfast providers and private landlords “to ensure that the council is in a position to respond to demand as it arises”.

In a statement, it said: “The council is working proactively with organisations who support homeless people, to ensure that both the individuals and the agencies working with them get the support that they need at this difficult time.

“Organisations providing frontline homeless hostel and day centre services may have individual cases where self-isolation is extremely problematic.”

The council said the Government has provided £24,750 to help it support those on the streets throughout the pandemic, with the option to bid for more if needed.

On March 16, the Government said people should stop “non-essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel”. People were asked to work from home if possible.

Then on Monday (March 23), prime minister Boris Johnson told the UK to “stay home” and warned of police fines for those who fall foul of the limited exemptions, which included leaving the house for food, essential work and exercise.

Hours before the city council made its commitment to offer accommodation, a number of rough sleepers said they had received no official guidance or help from any authority during the pandemic so far.

Beth Hunt, 34, who said she has been rough sleeping for around five years, said on March 24 that she had not received any advice on how to leave the streets in line with Government guidance and the new lockdown rules.

“It’s basically shut us out,” she said. “How the hell am I supposed to live? I don’t have the money to support myself.

“We can’t self-isolate or social distance out here. We can’t stay at home – this is our home.”

She said under normal circumstances, volunteers walk the streets and offer food and other necessities but said that has not been the case recently.

“It’s hard enough being out here normally, [the pandemic] has just made it impossible,” she said.

Another woman sleeping rough, who wished to remain anonymous, said the closure of shops and public spaces was making it hard to charge electronics and use the bathroom.

A rough sleeper who only wished to give their first name, Alex, said on March 23: “Because of the situation with COVID-19 there has been absolutely no people out over the past two days to give out food.

“Since COVID-19, everything has got harder.”

Asked if he had been offered accommodation to take him off the streets for the pandemic, he said he had not received an offer and he had not been contacted by the council.

Every person claiming to be a rough sleeper in the centre of Cambridge who spoke to the Local Democracy Reporting Service on March 23 and 24 said they had received no official advice on how to leave the streets during the pandemic, except for if they show symptoms.

None of the rough sleepers said they had been fined or received a warning from the police for being out on the streets on March 24, the day after the Government introduced new lockdown measures.

The street outreach team run for the council by Change Grow Live actively contacts rough sleepers regularly to provide support.

Team leader Vicky Knighton said that, like other services and business, they are operating with a reduced staff currently, but said the team has been out every day of the working week offering support, including food, medical advice and advising on handwashing.

She said reduced support for rough sleepers from volunteers and the general public during the lockdown means there is an increased demand for services.

Starting on March 24, she said the street outreach team would be providing additional meals in the evenings, Monday to Friday, to help “fill the gap” left by members of the public who hand out food.

But owing to the transient nature of rough sleeping, she said they will not be able to locate every known rough sleeper every day and said it can be about two weeks between contact for some individuals.

Cambridge City Council’s executive councillor for housing, Richard Johnson, said: “Rough sleepers represent some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

“Many have underlying health conditions and dependencies which may make them more susceptible to coronavirus. Their situation does also not make self-isolation straightforward.

“They need the council and its partners more than ever at this time.

“We need to be on the front foot in this vital effort to save lives, and to that end the council is working closely with local organisations to ensure that not only properties, but follow-up support services to these groups, are available.”

Anyone concerned about somebody sleeping rough at this time can notify the council via the website https://www.streetlink.org.uk or by phoning Streetlink on 0300 500 0914.


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