Housing the Homeless
by John Battle
Chair J&P Commission Leeds
There are scores of empty newly built flats down alongside the River Aire in Leeds City centre waiting for wealthier buyers. Perhaps they should have been handed over to the council to help deal with the housing shortage and to tackle rough sleeping on the streets. In Leeds to be fair, charities work hard with the City Council to tackle homelessness.
I should declare an interest as a trustee of the long-standing and well-respected St. George’s Crypt in Leeds City centre working for years to provide the major night and day centre, hostels for those with alcohol and drug problems, and most recently, building more permanent supported flats to provide long term accommodation for the former homeless. Now the coronavirus lock down has led to the closure of shelters throughout the country as they cannot sustain social distancing.
The good news is that the Government has given local councils funds to take rough sleepers off the streets and put them in now unused Travelodges and budget hotels. The Government is paying for the rooms and local councils and charities such as St George’s are providing staff support and meals. The average life expectancy for someone living on the streets is 45 years as most suffer with underlying and serious health issues, making them particularly vulnerable to Covid19.
It therefore was only common sense for this unprecedented action to protect them and not leave them on the streets as a risk to the wider community. It is estimated that presently over 2000 rough sleepers, of an 4000 estimated by the homeless charity Crisis in England, are in supported hotels.
Councils such as Liverpool, Leeds, Bristol, London and Birmingham have all moved quickly to respond to this positive initiative to replace homeless shelters. As discussions start on an “exit strategy” from “lock down” and social isolation, can we build on this initiative to take rough sleeping seriously and continue to include them as needing proper accommodation. Funding charities to build longer term housing provision with some support would be a start. Meanwhile there are some empty unused properties. As Pope Francis urged in this crisis: “Let us not lose our memory once all this is past. Let us not file it away and go back to where we were. This is a time to take the decisive step…”
If you would to help St George’s Crypt with their work tackling homelessness please see link: How you can help | St. George‘s Crypt