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Charities join forces to help most vulnerable

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Two charities have joined forces to help the most vulnerable people in society during Covid-19.

The Big Help, which includes Knowsley Foodbank, and Croxteth Federation’s Family Matters Project have  been awarded £39,310 by the Steve Morgan Foundation’s Covid-19 Emergency Fund.

They’ve been using two Steve Morgan Foundation Smiley Buses and two newly-bought eco-friendly eBikes to deliver hundreds of food bags and essential supplies to those most in need.

Following the award they’ve appointed a Community Resilience Manager to oversee four new support staff at both the Liverpool and Knowsley sites.

They have also teamed up with the local shop and pharmacy to provide food and support to those in hardship either by way of collection or through a delivery service.

The charity is also looking to improve IT systems so workers will be able to continue offering advice and information on a range of subjects including food poverty, welfare and debt advice to clients from their homes.

Cllr Peter Mitchell who chairs the board of trustees of both organisations said: “We’re best placed to know what the community needs and the support from the Steve Morgan Foundation has helped make it possible

“Between both organisations we fed over 20,000 people in 2019 and distributed over 100 tonnes of food and now we have the right people in place to face this challenge.

“Our food pantries have been a big success, helping people to help themselves and become less reliant on foodbanks.

“With more than 50 staff and over 125 volunteers supporting us every week, we are ready to face the challenges during this crisis.”

Croxteth Federation’s CEO Ken Eaton said: “It’s about trying to deliver services in a different way. We can respond quickly whether it’s emergency items, advice on welfare benefits or whatever.

“There are a lot of people who are isolated and vulnerable. Because we have access to the minibus, vans and an eBike we can ferry large and small amounts of food around to the people who need them.

“We are delighted with our grant from the Steve Morgan Foundation, which has enabled us to increase staffing capacity to support those experiencing hardship in these difficult times.”

Steve Morgan, founder of the Steve Morgan Foundation, said: “This is a brilliant example of a charity helping the most vulnerable people in society when they need help.”

Rise in people sleeping rough at Heathrow as councils fail to provide accommodation

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Number of homeless people taking refuge at airport doubles since lockdown began.

Dozens of homeless people are sleeping at Heathrow airport after being denied emergency accommodation by councils despite promises from the government that all would be taken off the streets during the coronavirus pandemic, it has emerged.

Since the Covid-19 lockdown began, one of the rough sleepers, a professional woman in her 40s from west Africa who is trying to regularise her immigration status, said that the number in Terminal 5 had more than doubled. She said the rough sleepers were a mix of migrants and British citizens.

“I first started sleeping at the airport last October when I lost my accommodation,” she said. “There were 10-15 of us then. Now we have grown to about 30. We try to support each other by sharing food and things. We have approached different councils asking them to give us accommodation, just until the pandemic is over, but they have refused so we’re still sleeping at the airport.”

Hillingdon council is the closest local authority to Heathrow and some of the rough sleepers said they approached officials there for emergency accommodation during the pandemic but were turned away. A letter from the council’s chief executive, Fran Beasley, dated 16 April, states: “I can confirm that Hillingdon council has taken all necessary steps in assisting known rough sleepers as required and remains fully compliant with government requirements.”

This was written in response to a letter from several organisations expressing concern about the failure to help homeless people get off the streets during the pandemic regardless of their immigration status.

Thousands of rough sleepers still unhoused in England, say charities

“The airport staff are kind to us as long as we behave ourselves,” said the woman sleeping at Terminal 5. “When the virus started the numbers sleeping at the airport grew and I started seeing a lot of unfamiliar faces. It is much safer here than sleeping outside. London is scary at the moment because it’s so empty.”

She said that she had approached several London boroughs including Hillingdon but had been denied accommodation. “If they can’t help us, they should let us stay at the airport,” she said. “The people sleeping here are very calm. They are not using drugs or alcohol. Some of us sleep on the floor. Some on the chairs. There are social distancing notices everywhere and we comply with them.”

A bulletin published on Tuesday from councils about support for migrants with no recourse to public funds during the pandemic says: “Providing additional support for residents is extremely challenging for councils and it is unclear to what extent the government’s Covid-19 emergency funding will adequately meet these costs.

“A consequence of the Home Office not relaxing restrictions on access to benefits during the pandemic for people subject to the ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition is that local government is likely to incur additional costs when accommodation and financial support needs to be provided.”

Fizza Qureshi, chief executive of the Migrants’ Rights Network, expressed concerns about physical distancing in inadequate spaces. She said: “We are extremely concerned that there are homeless people who are having to shelter in the airport because they have been turned away by local authorities … The only thing that is heartwarming is that they are building their own community to lean on during this crisis.”

A Heathrow spokesperson said: “In line with government guidelines, Heathrow is applying the necessary social distancing measures at our airport, which sees us strictly limiting airport access to passengers, colleagues and those with a reason for entry. We are asking all other members of the public to leave to ensure their safety and the safety of others. All new arrivals at the airport who are struggling to find accommodation will be asked to return to their point of origin and contact StreetLink for support.”

Hillingdon council said: “The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is leading on rehousing the rough sleepers based at Heathrow airport. We have offered accommodation to all of the rough sleepers in other parts of the borough who we are in contact with.”

A government spokesperson said: “Over 90% of those known to be living on the streets at the start of the crisis have been offered safe accommodation – ensuring some of the most vulnerable people can stay safe during the pandemic. This remarkable achievement is the result of a collaborative effort across government and with local authorities, health providers and charities.

“This is backed by £3.2bn of government funding for local authorities as part of the wider government response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Stop denying help to people who do not have a local connection to public funds (NRPF).

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The group of charities, which includes Crisis and Homeless Link, said they have heard repeated examples of councils denying help to people who do not have a local connection to the area or who have no recourse to public funds (NRPF).

This is despite a letter which was sent to councils last week by minister for homelessness Luke Hall, which ordered them to find accommodation for all rough sleepers during the coronavirus crisis, including those with NRPF.

Charities warn ‘second wave’ of homeless people will need accommodation during coronavirus crisis

An individual with NRPF is someone who is not eligible for government support due to their immigration status.

Since last week, councils across the UK have been block-booking hotels in order to house people who are sleeping on the street or in shelters.

In their letter, the charities said that significant progress has been made, but said “far too many people are still rough sleeping or staying in dangerous communal night shelters”.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “We commend the government’s swift action to protect people most at risk by ensuring they have somewhere safe to stay during the pandemic.

“But the stark fact remains that there are people whose lives are still in danger, sleeping on our streets or trapped in crowded hostels and night shelters.

“To fulfil the ambition of getting ‘everyone in’ we must see the final barriers stopping people from getting the help they need removed”.

“This means ensuring councils have the money they need to support people into hotel accommodation and a clear message that anyone, no matter who they are or their circumstance, will get the help they need to shelter from the pandemic.”

“We must also ensure that once people have been accommodated they get access to the health care they need if they are affected by the virus, and in the long term are supported into safe, permanent housing once this crisis is over.”

Thousands of rough sleepers still unhoused in England, say charities

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Councils call for more funds in order to meet government request for emergency shelter

Thousands of rough sleepers in England are thought to remain unhoused despite an unprecedented government request to local authorities to find housing for those on the streets by Sunday evening to avert the spread of Covid-19.

After the unfunded request from the government last week, which also called for the closure of night shelters and street encampments, homelessness charities questioned whether fulfilling it would be feasible. But on Monday, charities were keen to stress that considerable progress had been made in a short space of time, with the national homelessness charity Crisis estimating that about 4,200 had been rehoused in England within a few weeks.

“It shows what you can do with money and organisation and an assertive approach from government,” Matthew Downie, director of policy at Crisis said.

Birmingham city council had worked with a Holiday Inn in the centre of the city to accommodate more than 250 rough sleepers or residents of night shelters, he said, and hotel staff and charity workers were bringing people three meals a day to their rooms to allow them to isolate. Liverpool council has paid for more than 50 people to move into a newly built, unopened hotel.

Officials are concerned about the risk of transmission between people living on the streets, congregating in day shelters, and also about those who live in shelters with communal sleeping, eating and washing areas.

“There shouldn’t be too much self-congratulation about this. There are people still on the streets, and many people who won’t have eaten for days,” said Downie. “But we should recognise that it has taken a global pandemic to sort out an absolutely solvable problem; it is possible to get thousands of people off the streets and out of night shelters in the space of a week.”

Meanwile, charities dealing primarily with people who have an uncertain immigration status said they were worried that not enough support was being offered. People who have a “no recourse to public funds” (NRPF) status – which is given to some asylum seekers, or people who have a limited immigration status – are not normally eligible for support from homelessness charities that rely on government funding. The question of how rehousing these people can be funded remains unresolved.

“It’s clear that NRPF conditions from the Home Office are prohibiting local authorities from supporting an extremely vulnerable groups of people,” a spokesperson for Naccom, a charity helping destitute migrants, said.

The Glass Door Homeless Charity said it had been contacted by many people who still needed urgent rehousing. “We have had one case of someone sleeping rough who has been told they must reconnect to their home country rather than being offered accommodation,” Neil Parkinson, a senior caseworker, said.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, wrote to the prime minister on Monday asking him to suspend the NRPF status. “Across London, there are tens of thousands of residents with NRPF, including delivery drivers, cleaners and NHS staff. Londoners with NRPF are at real risk of homelessness,” he said.

About 60 people were still sleeping in Terminal 5 at Heathrow on Monday night, according to Paul Atherton, a film-maker who has been homeless for a number of years and who is currently sleeping at the airport. He said he had not been given any support from outreach workers or from local councils.

The Local Government Association said councils needed more central government funding to complete the task. “Some councils continue to face challenges securing accommodation, not helped by the recent closures of hotels and caravan parks, and some insurance policies which may limit the ability of some hotel owners to take part in housing rough sleepers.

We are calling on the government to increase support to those councils that are struggling to source accommodation, hire additional staff, and support the people they are accommodating – including with essential basics such as food.”

Figures for the total number of rough sleepers and homeless people in England are unreliable, but Crisis estimates that there are thousands more people still in night shelters, lying next to each other on church hall floors or still living in hostels where they have to access shared space to cook or wash.

“The real test isn’t how quickly we get people off the streets, but how permanently we can keep them off afterwards,” Downie said.

The Home Office, which is responsible for regulations around which non-UK citizens have access to public funds, said: “Nobody should find themselves starving or destitute. Measures we have brought forward such as rent and mortgage protections and food vouchers are not considered public funds and can be accessed by migrants with leave to remain.”

But charities remained concerned about the situation for people who do not have the formal “leave to remain” immigration status.