Tameside Council's Executive Leader, Cllr Brenda Warrington, discusses what has been done locally to support homeless people and what she wants to see happen to tackle homelessness across the country.
Since the beginning of the age of austerity in 2010 we have been facing a crisis of homelessness in this country.
The latest figures we have from the government’s own website say that in autumn 2019 there were an estimated 3,130 people sleeping rough across the country, an increase of 131 per cent since the start of the decade.
While the airwaves have been dominated by issues like PPE and testing, one of the more unreported stories of coronavirus is the impact it’s had on homelessness.
Here in Tameside there was a very real fear that our good work over the past few years in reducing rough sleeping by 86 per cent would be undone.
Not only would the pandemic force more people onto the streets, but much of our hostel and emergency accommodation would be unusable since it gave residents no way to self-isolate.
A number of Greater Manchester councils chose to solve this problem by putting rough sleepers up in temporary hotel accommodation in the city centre.
However we felt that this option could lead to further isolation problems for rough sleepers, an increased risk of addiction issues and the very real chance that relationships built up with individuals over many months would be lost.
Instead our Homelessness Team worked hard to place our rough sleepers in short-term rented properties within Tameside itself, giving them safe accommodation in which they could self-isolate while also allowing their Homelessness Team worker to keep in touch with them.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve prevented almost 100 people in Tameside from becoming homeless.
This fantastic work also highlights a wider point that many of us have been saying for years.
Homelessness is not inevitable, and the only things stopping us ending it in Britain are a lack of money and political will.
When this pandemic ends we cannot and will not throw people back onto the street.
I want the government to look at the successes in Tameside and other local authorities and give us the support we need to keep doing it.
I want them to reverse the decade of cuts that deprived those at risk of homelessness of vital support.
I want them to acknowledge that there is no excuse for people sleeping rough in the fifth-largest economy in the world.
As we begin to think about life after coronavirus, let’s have the courage and decency to choose a better way.