Ministers appear to have quietly abandoned plans to house more than 3,000 rough sleepers by the end of March despite a high-profile pledge to tackle homelessness during the pandemic.
In October, housing secretary Robert Jenrick announced more than 3,300 homes had been “approved”, and would be ready by this month, as he hailed “the most effective action taken by any country in the world to protect those sleeping rough from the pandemic”.
But when questioned about the progress on the promise, Jenrick’s Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) pointed to an announcement to be made on Thursday to commit an extra £212m to house 6,000 rough sleepers by the end of this parliament in 2024, which has been a long-standing policy.
When pressed, a MHCLG spokesperson said “many” homes would be available by the end of the month, but declined to give a specific figure. An accompanying press release refers to 21 homes for former long-term rough sleepers in Bristol, and 28 in St Helens.
The Whitehall department says £750 million is being spent over the next year to “end rough sleeping once and for all”.
Jessica Turtle, co-founder of the Museum of Homelessness, said: “We are deeply angry that MHCLG has failed to deliver on its promise to provide 3,000 settled homes by March 31.
“The picture could not be more grim. Our Dying Homeless Project showed the awful results of people stuck in inadequate emergency accommodation for far too long with a 37% increase in deaths of homeless people who are indoors, not on the streets.
“It’s pure negligence not to develop proper solutions to homelessness so people no longer have to choose between horrible, possibly fatal, emergency accommodation or the streets.”
The delivery plan comes on the back of the council-led Everyone In campaign, which saw attempts in March last year to find every rough sleeper safe accommodation to guard against the spread of infection.
But questions have been raised over the effectiveness of the government’s efforts to combat homelessness during the health crisis.
In a report published on Wednesday, the Commons public accounts committee (PAC) criticised the MHCLG’s sometimes “disappointing evasiveness” as it questioned whether the department will meet its 3,300 homes target.
It also raised questions over the MHCLG trumpeting how 37,000 people had been supported by the Everyone In scheme – arguing the figure is nearly nine times the department’s pre-pandemic estimate of 4,266 rough sleepers on Britain’s streets.
The MHCLG has said it rejected “the unfounded criticisms” in the PAC report, adding the count represents the number of rough sleepers on a single night.
The committee said the gap has thrown the government’s homelessness strategy into question and ministers still have no plan for keeping the 2019 election promise to end rough sleeping by May 2024.
Committee chair Meg Hillier, a Labour MP, said: “Everyone In was a success with local authorities and voluntary organisations working to help people living on the street into hostels and hotel rooms in a matter of days.
“But the Everyone In initiative has exposed the scale of the task the Ministry of Housing faces to meet the government’s commitment to end rough sleeping in three years.
“Rough sleeping was a massive public health issue long before the pandemic, and much larger than government has previously publicly acknowledged.”
Making the fresh announcement on Thursday, Jenrick said: “Since the start of the pandemic, we made it a priority to protect rough sleepers through our ongoing Everyone In campaign, which has supported more than 37,000 people into long-term accommodation.
“To build on this progress we are making the biggest ever investment in longer-term accommodation for rough sleepers so they can have a secure, safe and comfortable home and rebuild their lives.
“Councils have played an outstanding role in protecting rough sleepers throughout the pandemic and today’s funding is a further opportunity to work together to achieve our mission of ending rough sleeping once and for all.”