Central government urged to support Oldham’s help for the homeless

Date published: 06 August 2020

Oldham Council has been praised for its efforts to house the homeless during the COVID-19 crisis.

But like all areas outside of the city in Greater Manchester, it is less equipped to deal with rough sleepers – and concerns are that a broken economy could mean more homeless people are coming their way.

That is the conclusion of a survey of all 10 local authorities in the region by charity Homeless-Friendly, who are deeply concerned for the health of rough sleepers who are back onto the streets.

They are also asking: “With such limited resources, what will happen to the homeless during the next pandemic?”

The good cause posed three questions to local authorities via Freedom of Information requests.

They asked what resources councils devoted during the Coronavirus to provide shelter, what attempts they made to reach homeless people during lockdown, and whether or not they followed Government guidelines on housing rough sleepers.

During lockdown, Oldham managed to secure accommodation across Greater Manchester for the homeless.

The council even procured premises to help keep rough sleepers protected.

The outreach team did regular checks to identify those in need and even provided mobile phones for the homeless to use.

More widely, the results showed:

* All 10 councils surveyed had provided additional accommodation including hotels, with Trafford utilising local B&Bs

* Almost all had a dedicated outreach team, with some visiting “known areas” for homelessness every day and most working with partner agencies to identify and support homeless people

* All followed Government and Greater Manchester guidance with some such as Tameside, holding daily briefings

But while Manchester had long-established links with local charities, a street kitchen, and mobile phones for rough sleepers to use, smaller councils had far less provision.

“Studies have shown that the homeless are migrating out of city centres and into suburban and even country areas, because they are fearful of assaults and believe that people in those boroughs are more generous,” said Dr Zahid Chauhan OBE, Founder of Homeless-Friendly.

“If the predictions are correct about job losses, we may also have more people experiencing homelessness, generally.

"Our team saw such compassion and innovation in Oldham’s responses to our questions, but when is central government going to do something to help?”

Homeless-Friendly was formed after concerns about the health of rough sleepers and has engaged hundreds of NHS surgeries, hospital A&E units, hospices, businesses, out-of-hours services and even Oldham Athletic Football Club.

All have promised to examine their policies and procedures to ensure they cater for people experiencing the heartbreak of homelessness.

“Engaging the health service is particularly important,” added Dr Chauhan.

"Because rough sleepers are more susceptible to infections, are malnourished and have a life expectancy of just 45-years-of-age.”

The Government allocated £3.2 million of additional funding to house the homeless in hotels at the beginning of March.

That scheme has now finished.

Economic strife is already beginning to bite and again despite heroic efforts from surgeries including the City Health Centre in Manchester, fear of catching COVID has prevented homeless people from gaining healthcare.

Dr Chauhan concluded: “There are some pretty dire predictions about how virulent the virus could become during the traditional flu season of October and November.

"What will happen this time?

"Will the Government again find additional resource?

"And even more importantly, what are we doing long-term to solve homelessness?

"Our charity was forced to ask for donations to put together COVID-19 protection kits for rough sleepers after the Government refused our petition to provide these.

"In emergency and non-emergency times, they have to do so much better and mirror the kind of dedication showed by Greater Manchester councils.”

Learn more about Homeless-Friendly by visiting: http://www.homelessfriendly.co.uk/

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