Churches may have to be creative this year as the conditions on reopening shelters for people experiencing homelessness will mean less beds can be provided and many won't be able to open at all.
Traditional, dormitory-style homeless shelters will not be possible this winter, according to the latest government advice, which has received mixed responses from homeless charities.
The Government has released guidance on what precautions need to be met before a homeless shelter can reopen in Covid-19 times but has set out fairly strict conditions so that the virus does not rapidly spread among homeless people and volunteers.
The Christian charity Housing Justice has worked with politicians on the document and welcomes the guidance, warning Christian groups that many will not be able to provide what they are used to and should think about contacting the local government to ask how they can support their plans to house people, or ask for funding to set up Covid-secure accommodation in different locations.
For example, those with Covid-19 symptoms will need to have a self-contained room which they could self-isolate in if they turn up. Health assessments (checking if the person has symptoms) will need to be done during the day and if someone turns up at night when a health assessment cannot be done, emergency, isolated accommodation will need to be provided.
Sharing food and utensils is to be avoided and numbers should be kept to a minimum, maintaining a two metre distance. Face coverings must also be worn in all shared spaces.
Jacob Quagliozzi, the UK director of Housing Justice, told Premier Christians should look for how they can support their local community strategy: "If we learnt one thing during the last six months it's that nobody comes off the street because of one organisation. It's all about partnership. I recommend speaking to local authorities, seeing what their plans are and how you can work together with them. Second, speaking to either us or Homeless Link or even central government MHCLG (Ministry of Housing, Community and Local Government) to see whether we might be able to work with your organisation to get some funding to you to run some kind of self-contained accommodation. Often we're going to be talking about less beds, maybe six people in a shared house as opposed to 12 or 15 beds in a church hall."
Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of Crisis, took a more critical view of the Government, saying shelters should not be allowed to reopen: "We urgently need the government to see sense on this matter and keep winter night shelters closed. They must instead provide councils with the crucial funding they need to provide everyone forced to sleep rough with safe, self-contained accommodation, as they did in March. Anything but this is risking lives."
Prior to the pandemic, across England and Wales there were 182 winter night shelter projects. Those accounted for about 2,250 beds, offering shelter to 9,021 people between November 2019 and 31st March 2020.
Since 1st April, all night shelters in England have been closed, with the people who were using their services at the point of the lockdown catered for in hotels, provided by local and regional government. From August, about six projects have reopened in new spaces, offering self-contained accommodation under strict social distancing guidelines.
The Government have also produced a package of funding, with £2m going to faith and community groups who work on homelessness.