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Norwich councillor concerned for homeless if Government funding comes to "cliff edge"

Fears homeless people will be back on the streets if government funding for rough sleepers comes to a “cliff edge” has sparked calls from charities and councillors for support to continue.

The Norwich city council leader Alan Waters said the authority was “pressing the government to make sure that it doesn’t suddenly turn off the financial tap” over rough sleeping.

And charities and councillors have described how the “almost impossible” has been achieved during the coronavirus pandemic.

One city councillor said it was “possible to end homelessness – if the government has the will to do that.”

And Dr Jan Sheldon, chief executive of St Martins housing charity, said more than 70 people in the city had been supported into housing during the crisis, with “many now having secure and permanent housing”.

Councils were told to ensure all rough sleepers were housed as the outbreak began in March, and people were placed in hotels and other emergency accommodation.

The scheme, known as ‘Everyone In’ was intended to protect vulnerable rough sleepers and help limit the virus’ spread.

But homelessness charity Crisis has warned that hotel contracts are set to end as the government’s £3.2m for the scheme runs, after it emerged last month that the funding would not be extended.

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) insisted claims the scheme was being wound up were “simply wrong” and “councils should continue to provide safe accommodation for those who need it”.

The government also said local authorities had been given a further £3.2bn of support towards their responses to the pandemic, but the money is not specifically for housing rough sleepers via the emergency scheme.

Mr Waters told Radio Norfolk that help needed to continue.

He said the council was “pressing the government to make sure that it doesn’t suddenly turn off the financial tap around this, because people back out on the streets, having found people accommodation and having worked with groups of people to make sure they can have a positive change and direction in their lives, we wouldn’t want to see that work in any way hindered”.

He added: “We’ve made our views clear and I think that’s something which local authorities across the country have been talking to the government about.

“We don’t want a cliff edge, because throughout this period central government have had to intervene in a big way to deal with the Covid crisis, and going forward we’re going to need the government to play its part.”

While Dr Sheldon said: “St Martins is fully supportive of the city council’s request to central government.

“On March 26 everyone who was rough sleeping was found accommodation and together we achieved what was thought to be almost impossible.

"Since then over 70 people have been supported into accommodation in Norwich and many now have secure and permanent housing.

“We’ve worked with people who have previously been reluctant to engage and we’ve seen what a difference having a warm, safe comfortable space to sleep in and regular meals has made.”

She added: “Having got ‘everyone in’ we now need to keep ‘everyone in’.

"Rough sleeping is not something which should be happening on our streets in the 21st century.

“It is not – as is often thought – the people who are broken, it is the systems which are broken.

“Let’s mend the systems and support people to live the lives they want to lead.

"All too often government forgets that nobody grows up wanting to sleep rough.”

And Jamie Osborn, Green Party councillor for Mancroft, said: “Over the last few months we’ve seen there is a magic money tree when there needs to be.”

He added: “Not everyone has been housed over the last few months. You only have to walk around the city in the evening to see people sleeping rough.

“It’s possible to end homelessness if the government has the will to do it but successive governments have chosen to let homelessness be a problem.

And he said there were people in his ward “living by the grace of their landlords” and added: “That could end at any moment.”

The MHCLG has announced “radical plans to provide thousands of long-term, safe homes for vulnerable rough sleepers taken off the streets”, with £160m of funding this year for 6,000 new “housing units”.

And housing secretary Robert Jenrick said: “This government wants to end rough sleeping for good.”

By Local Democracy Reporter Service, reporter Jessica Frank-Keyes

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