Covid emergency accommodation to continue beyond September

Emergency housing put in place to help keep homeless people in the city safe through the Covid-19 pandemic will be available at least until the end of December.

A special meeting of the Policy & Resources Committee today (14 August 2020) agreed to extend the provision of self-contained accommodation to avoid the need for anyone to sleep rough when current arrangements end in September.

There are 372 units of Covid-19 emergency accommodation currently in place.

On 3 August, we were providing safe emergency housing for a total of 393 people who would otherwise be at risk of sleeping rough in this and other emergency accommodation.

Everyone who needs it is being provided with food and support.

The council’s use of some accommodation will now be extended but others, such as the student accommodation provided by the University of Brighton, will be lost as it returns to usual business. 

Alternative arrangements will be found for everyone staying in the properties no longer available.

Personal housing plans

It’s important that we find longer term housing solutions for those in emergency accommodation as quickly as possible.

We’re working in partnership with St Mungo’s, Arch Healthcare and our Public Health team to assess and support everyone accommodated and develop personal housing plans to help people move on.

The options will include moves into supported accommodation, private rented housing or council and housing association properties. 

Some people without a local connection to the city will be supported to return to the area where they can be offered accommodation, as long as it’s safe for them to do so.

The majority of people have now been assessed, with 65 still in progress.

One third of the people assessed have significant health needs and will require self-contained accommodation. Many others will require some level of support to help them to live independently.

The need to find housing for so many people quickly is very challenging and, while we have been able to identify some additional accommodation, we are facing a significant shortfall of more than 230 units to avoid people returning to the street.

There’s also an average of 10 additional people rough sleeping in the city every week adding to the pressure of providing emergency accommodation. 

Funding

The costs to the council of this programme are significant. 

We’re working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) and Homes England on a bid for funding from the government’s Next Steps Accommodation Programme. 

The bid will include additional funds for the immediate emergency response, and capital funding for longer-term sustainable housing accommodation and support.

The outcome of the bid won’t be known until mid-September at the earliest and it’s also not certain to be fully funded.

Without extra funding, the cost to the council to continue providing the Covid-19 emergency accommodation and the accompanying support until the end of the year is estimated to more than £1.5 million.

While the council has received almost £18.8 million Emergency Response Funding across all services, this is far below the estimated deficit caused by the pandemic. The council’s deficit this financial year is currently estimated to be between £17 and £39 million.

Shortage of accommodation

Councillor David Gibson, joint chair of the Housing Committee and joint deputy chair of the Policy & Resources Committee, said:

“The accommodation and support we’ve been able to offer people who were rough sleeping has been crucial to keeping them – and the city – safe during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“It has given us and our partners a vital opportunity to work closely with people we’ve previously struggled to engage. 

“Staff and volunteers across many services are continuing to work tirelessly to keep people safe and support their move into secure housing. 

“A key part has been to plan options for the current arrangements ending to avoid the need for anyone to return to the streets. 

“We have a window of opportunity now and, while there are some funds in prospect from the government, we need to focus on finding more suitable longer-term accommodation and support, and more reconnections than there are newly arrived rough sleepers each week. 

“It’s a big challenge with the shortage of accommodation in the city. Whatever government support we get, it will run out by 31 March. 

“As we are committed not to return rough sleepers to the streets, it is crucial that we monitor progress towards achieving this for everyone currently in the Covid emergency accommodation.

“As the furlough ends, evictions resume and the full impact of the economic downturn is felt, the pressure on affordable housing in the city is only likely to rise further. And the threat of the virus has not gone away.

“We urgently need more funding to support our efforts to provide safe, secure housing for everyone, and we’ve been working with the MHCLG to prepare bids to the government’s Next Steps Accommodation Programme next week. 

“Unfortunately, we won’t know how much we will receive until next month and cannot risk people being forced back on the streets while we wait for confirmation of that funding.”

Councillor Gill Williams, the opposition lead for housing, said:

“The resources involved in this response have been, and continue to be, considerable. It has shown what can be achieved with the right resources in place.

“We believe everyone should have safe, secure accommodation and, where needed, an appropriate level of support to create a good quality of life. 

“A huge thanks to all staff and volunteers from the organisations working together to deliver this support. It’s crucial that this support remains in place after September.”

•    Read the ‘Next steps - rough sleeping and accommodation during Covid-19 pandemic and recovery’ Policy & Resources report (agenda item 52 – included as the addendum).

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