Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, Parish Priest of Farm Street and Chair of the Justice and Peace Commission said, “During the pandemic Central London Catholic Churches Homeless Services have worked with other faith groups, agencies, hospitality businesses and Westminster City Council to feed and provide showers, clothing and human care for some 300 homeless left on the streets of London.”
Colette Joyce, Co-ordinator of the Justice and Peace Commission, commented, “We are very concerned that, while there was a real success story at the beginning of lockdown with about 90% of homeless people given a temporary hotel place, as this crisis continues to unfold, we are witnessing more and more new destitute on the streets who are losing jobs, livelihoods and homes as a direct result of the pandemic. With night shelters closed, day centres and public services operating greatly reduced services, we are seeing the beginnings of a new underclass who, through no fault of their own, find themselves without a safety net in their hour of need.”
Fr Dominic added, “With the lifting of the ban on evictions from rented property, the end of the furlough scheme, and no move from national government on giving a reprieve to those with no recourse to public funds, the numbers of homeless on the streets and on the fragile line between just managing and destitution will get worse and worse. It promises to be a huge humanitarian crisis on a grand scale. Everybody wants to end rough sleeping forever – homeless agencies, faith groups, local authorities – and the united effort over the summer has shown we can work well together and find solutions.”
Charities, such as Shelter, have taken steps this week to update their services with advice and guidance for those who now face eviction or have become newly homeless, but the support available is limited.
The Jesuit Refugee Service is calling attention, in particular, to the plight of thousands of people recently refused asylum who are now facing evictions from Home Office accommodation (as reported in The Guardian on 19/08/20). Evictions were paused in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Evictions recommence at the same time as the government is discussing fresh lockdown measures due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.
Sarah Teather, JRS UK’s director, said: “Manufactured homelessness should never be considered an acceptable tool of immigration enforcement, and it is deeply troubling that anyone should face renewed homelessness in the middle of a global pandemic.”
With the possibility of a second lockdown looming in some form, we continue to call for a temporary reprieve for the duration of the pandemic from the no recourse to public funds rules so that Councils, housing associations and charities can respond to all those who present as homeless. We further urge an immediate halt to the evictions of asylum seekers from hostels who have nowhere else to go. The ban on evictions of other tenants should be reinstated immediately in the event of any increase of pandemic measures. With Citizens UK, we ask those with the power to do so to provide these concessions and to avert a further crisis which will overwhelm all who want to help.
Everyone in society deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and we need to put policies in place so that together we can ensure this.