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UK News

‘Offer your time, prayer and companionship’: Homeless charity’s message to Christians as winter homeless crisis looms

by Tola Mbakwe

A Christian homeless charity in the northeast of England has urged Christians to show compassion to rough sleepers as there’s a fresh warning of a possible winter crisis.

A coalition has said the lives of homeless people will be lost this winter without Government action to keep them off the streets and in accommodation where they can socially distance.

Seventeen health and homeless organisations including Crisis, St Mungo's and several royal colleges say lives will be at risk from the "double threat" of coronavirus and cold weather.

They are calling for a repeat of the Government's 'Everyone In scheme', which saw almost 15,000 homeless people in England moved into safe emergency accommodation such as hotels early on in the pandemic.

They are worried that, without more funding for councils, people will be forced into communal night shelters, where the risk of transmission is high.

Social distancing and proper safety measures for communal and dormitory-style shelters are likely to be "all but impossible", they say, and should not be the answer ahead of the winter months.

David Smith, chief executive of Christian charity Oasis Community Housing in Newcastle, agrees but told Premier there needs to be a more comprehensive response. 

“It needs to have the right support. So we can't just sweep people up into temporary accommodation, hotels, student accommodation, and then not offer the support that they need, particularly if they've been on the street for years, or if they've got complex needs to deal with such as substance abuse or mental health issues.

“You can't just pick them up off the street or from other temporary accommodation and just plunk them down there. But if you give the right support from charities like ourselves, and others, and local authorities, then that can work as a temporary solution. I'd have to say though, I think the ideal scenario is that we get people into their own accommodation.”

There were 4,227 people sleeping rough in London between April and June, latest data from the Greater London Authority shows, of which 2,680 (63 per cent) were sleeping on the streets for the first time.

Figures from its CHAIN database show the number of new rough sleepers was 77 per cent higher than the same period the previous year.

London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has also called for the Government to fully fund safe accommodation.

Research, published in the Lancet, estimates that 266 homeless lives were saved by preventative measures such as the use of hotels, closing dormitory-style communal shelters and increased infection control measures in hostels in England during the first wave.

If lifted, the University College London (UCL) study warned outbreaks in homeless shelters may lead to larger numbers of Covid-19 infections and deaths - even if transmission in the wider community is low.

Even without a second wave, relaxing measures in homeless settings could lead to more than 12,000 new infections, 184 deaths and 733 hospital admissions, it warned.

Smith said that Oasis Community Housing has preparations in place to address a spike in homelessness this winter.

He’s urged Christians to do what they can in their local community to help:

“First and foremost, please pray for charities that are seeking to care for people that have found themselves homeless.

“Please volunteer where you can. And the great thing that people can do is offer companionship and just that sense of dignity that everybody deserves by treating people with respect.

“When you see people on the street, look them in the eye and say hello. Ask them how they are, that human touch is so important.

”It's been a tough time this year for charities like us who do need funding to be able to support the people that we do.”

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: "We're determined to protect the most vulnerable in society - we took decisive action during the pandemic to protect hundreds of lives by bringing nearly 15,000 people into safe accommodation.

"Councils have been given over £4.8 billion of emergency funding to deal with the immediate pressures of the pandemic - including support for rough sleepers - and over £91 million in funding for interim accommodation and support services for those at risk of rough sleeping.

"Working with councils, charities and other partners we will protect vulnerable rough sleepers this winter and fund longer term accommodation and tailored support to end rough sleeping for good."

Listen to Premier's interview with David Smith here: 

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