Catholics call for answers on rough sleeping plan


Homeless queue outside National Gallery

Homeless queue outside National Gallery

Source: Catholic Union

The Catholic Union and other church groups in London have warned of a rough sleeping crisis, unless the Government acts soon.

Around 15,000 people across the country have been housed by local authorities since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. This has been made possible by extra funding from the Government to provide accommodation for rough sleepers in empty hotels and hostels as part of the "everyone in" scheme. This includes 1,400 people in London.

Many of the contracts between local authorities and accommodation providers are due to come to an end shortly, as hotels are allowed to reopen from 4 July. The Government has announced £85 million of new funding to secure alternative rooms for rough sleepers, such as student accommodation. But church groups are worried this has come too late for some people, and there is no extra help for the growing number of people still on the streets.

The Government has said it is committed to meeting the needs of rough sleepers to ensure "that as few people as possible return to the streets."

Dame Louise Casey has been asked to lead a taskforce on providing long-term solutions to ending rough sleeping. But no timescale has been given for this work, and church groups are worried that time is running out to produce a plan.

In a letter to Dame Louise, the Catholic Union has called for all people currently given shelter by the "everyone in" scheme to be housed permanently. It also highlights the challenges faced by rough sleepers with no resource to public funds.

The letter was sent on behalf of the Justice and Peace Department of the Catholic Diocese of Westminster, who are working in conjunction with Caritas, the social action department of the Diocese of Westminster and the Jesuit Refugee Service UK.

Chair of Westminster Justice and Peace, Fr Dominic Robinson, commented: "During the lockdown the central London Catholic Churches have been working nonstop with local businesses and government to help the many rough sleepers still on our streets. Some funds are being promised to rehouse the homeless currently in hotels but now many more men and women who've lost jobs and become destitute are pouring onto our streets. This catastrophe is avoidable if there is a temporary reprieve for the growing number of destitute who have no recourse to public funds. If public funds are made available for this group of people left on the streets, we stand ready to work together for what we all want - a permanent and holistic solution to this affront to human dignity which sees those who have lost everything with nowhere to turn".

Catholic Union Head of Public Affairs, James Somerville-Meikle, commented: "The new funding from the Government is a step in the right direction, but it has come late in the day. Many rough sleepers face being turned out of hotel and hostel rooms in the week ahead. Whilst the long-term commitment to end homelessness is welcome, we need an immediate plan for how to prevent a rough sleeping crisis. Church groups stand ready to be part of the solution and can help get support to some of the most vulnerable people in society - people that government services often struggle to reach."

Read the full letter here:

Dame Louise Casey
Chair, Taskforce on Rough Sleeping

Dear Dame Louise

Re: Contribution of church groups to tackling rough sleeping

I'm writing to you on behalf of the Catholic Union and several church groups involved in helping the homeless in London.

They include a number of parishes and social action groups within the Catholic Diocese of Westminster - Caritas, and Justice and Peace - who have been working with the London Passage and the Jesuit Refugee Service UK.

Representatives from Caritas Westminster and Westminster Justice and Peace would welcome the opportunity to brief you on the work they are doing, the challenges they face, and the help they can provide, in finding a long-term solution to ending rough sleeping.

The Catholic Union is the leading representative group for lay Catholics in Britain. We seek to promote the views and interests of the 4.5 million Catholics in this country.

The Catholic Church has a rich history of helping those in need, particularly at times of crisis, including the homeless, and has been the principal provider of emergency food and pastoral care for the homeless during the lockdown as all the usual day and night shelters have been closed.

We welcome the work of your taskforce in looking at the causes of rough sleeping and producing recommendations to Government on ending homelessness. This work has clearly been given greater importance and urgency in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The extra funding given to councils to support rough sleepers during this crisis has been a step in the right direction. The "everyone in" scheme has helped to get thousands of people off our streets and into secure accommodation. This has been a fantastic example of good co-operation between local and central government, charities and the private sector.

The Catholic Church, along with other volunteer groups, has played its part by helping local authorities get rough sleepers housed during this crisis and looking after those still on our streets with an enormous feeding programme through our parishes' contact with large London hotels who have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on this operation.

However, there are concerns about what will happen when existing funding for the "everyone in" scheme comes to an end. The policies below would make a huge difference is tackling homelessness once and for all.

1. A guarantee that the Government will extend housing support for all those currently in hotels, to support their move to new homes where this cannot be provided by local authorities.

A temporary reprieve for all those with no recourse to public funds in relation to support available to help the homeless, this would be in line with existing discretion with regard to destitution (section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999). This should include those who have exhausted their rights or have no current legal status.

Access to free legal advice concerning the rights of individuals to seek and receive help if they are homeless.

We sincerely hope your taskforce will consider these points and make recommendations on them when you report to the Communities Secretary and Prime Minister.

Church groups stand ready to be part of the long-term solution and can help get support to some of the most vulnerable people in society - people that government services often struggle to reach.

The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, recently commented: "In 2020 no person should be faced with the indignity of being compelled to sleep on the street or the dangers and challenges associated with doing so... Only by working together can we find just and permanent solutions for the people who are homeless. I hope and pray that the new momentum found during this crisis can be sustained and will be successful."

The Catholic Union would be delighted to help arrange a meeting with you to discuss the contribution of church groups in London to tackling homelessness. A meeting need not take long, but it might help provide a useful insight at this crucial time for the work of your taskforce.

If this is of interest, I would be pleased to discuss details with your office.

Let's use this moment to end rough sleeping once and for all in this country.

Nigel Parker

Director
The Catholic Union of Great Britain Email: [email protected]

LINKS

Twitter: @CatholicUnionGB

Website: www.catholicunion.org.uk


Tags: Homeless, Rough Sleepers, Catholic Union, Louise Casey, Nigel Parker

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