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How are local authority homelessness services responding to COVID-19?

Joe Kane-Smith, Best Practice Consultancy Manager

The challenge facing local authorities across the country is unprecedented and rapidly changing. It is therefore vital to share emerging knowledge, resources and practice examples quickly and easily. We have produced an open-access toolkit, where everyone can make suggestions and contribute, to help coordinate and facilitate this for the sector.

Homelessness should be a priority in emergency planning

People experiencing homelessness, particularly those who are rough sleeping, are especially vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic. The shared spaces and facilities of homelessness accommodation mean they are unable to follow guidelines recommended for the general population. It is therefore vital that people who are homeless and living on the streets, or in shared facilities, are an immediate priority for alternative housing and support provision. This support should recognise the importance of taking a person-centred, trauma informed approach to working with people. The guidance in our toolkit is intended to support this.

Introducing the toolkit

The toolkit provides some good practice guidance and ideas about what local authorities should and could be doing in response to the pandemic; and a communal space for knowledge share and collaboration around emerging challenges and good practice. It is not intended as a replacement or alternative to official (or other) guidance. Please use, contribute and share with others:

Crisis COVID-19 Open-Access Toolkit

Guidance for local authorities

A summary of our guidance and suggestions for local authorities is outlined below but please see the toolkit for full detail. We recognise some of these require coordinated funding, direction and action from central government to support local authorities (see our open letter to the Prime Minister with some key policy asks):

  • Establish a multi-agency homelessness COVID-19 task force and comprehensive action plan, ensuring housing and homelessness are represented on all emergency response structures and forums
  • Work with the local voluntary sector to cover provision of essential services and provide live status updates. Consider specifically how you will provide these to people experiencing homelessness
  • Complete a local needs analysis and map local resources. This information is critical for testing and tracking
  • Define your “core essential service” contingency plan and the level of workforce required to maintain this. In the absence of any legislative easements, LAs are expected to continue meeting all of their legal duties. Strategically prioritise according to need, reconfigure service levels and review open caseloads accordingly
  • Review your hours of operation and service access channels to reduce non-essential contact, but ensure alternative ways to access support are clearly communicated
  • Develop a self-isolation protocol (based on “Test – Triage – Cohort – Care”) and contingency plan. This should include rapid, active testing for COVID-19 in all local homelessness and outreach services (with healthcare professionals), separating individuals who test positive/ are symptomatic from those who are virus free, and setting up new emergency temporary facilities to care separately for each group. Close and re-purpose “no second night out” or similar hubs, night shelters and shared facility hostels to support this; providing clear guidance for frontline staff on what to do
  • Appropriate floating support, security and safeguarding processes should be provided for clients and staff in any new temporary facilities. Many providers are looking to increase communication with tenants who are forced into isolation and active case management approaches should be adopted to manage and support those who need to self-isolate
  • Work with partners to quickly explore a range of methods to increase accommodation supply. LAs are encouraged to seek government advice/ support with this and be creative (the Crown Commercial Service is on hand to help source and book hotel accommodation). This should include engaging the private sector and reviewing policies to prioritise allocations and new lets for people impacted
  • In the absence of temporary legislative changes, LAs should utilise their discretionary powers and alternative legal duties to provide accommodation for everyone that needs it
  • Suspend service restrictions or barriers to access and streamline processes so everyone who needs accommodation during this period is entitled to it. More specifically, intentionality and local connection (which is discretionary anyway) should not be a barrier to entitlement. As expected by central funding, this should include households that would otherwise not be entitled to housing and support due to eligibility status
  • Show forbearance with partners and do not pursue possession at this time for tenants in social housing or issue any further legal summons. Ongoing eviction activity should be suspended, including from temporary and emergency accommodation
  • Provide up to date housing-related coronavirus advice online, and via other channels, and ensure housing officers are updated and regularly briefed on changes to tenant and landlord law
  • Ensure that people facing financial hardship are not left facing homelessness as a result of the impact of COVID-19. This may require proactive contact and offers of support to understand immediate needs and risks
  • Existing discharge practices from state institutions (prisons, hospitals, NASS accommodation etc.) and partnership work needs to be maintained and enhanced

Please see the toolkit for more detail and useful resources to help with the above. If you are having issues with the toolkit or want to email a resource for addition, please contact us. We are always keen to hear from local authorities about the measures they're taking in their areas.

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