Westminster council is working with national government, the GLA and London councils to support rough sleepers

Westminster council has issued a statement to quash rumours that other London boroughs had been housing rough sleepers in the City’s empty hotels and expecting it to look after them and pick up the bill.

It seems loose talk and incorrect facts were put about at a meeting in April between residents and councillors in Westminster about the effort in London to get rough sleepers off the streets and into hotels where they could be kept safe and stop the spread of Covid-19. One council incorrectly singled out was the London Borough of Haringey

Westminster council said it would not be unusual for people sleeping rough in other boroughs to be put up in temporary accommodation in Westminster but that a support package is always provided. The priority for London councils was to get people off the streets as quickly as they could once the lockdown started and people were put into hotels across Greater London, not just the City of Westminster.

Around 1,000 hotel rooms were booked in a joint effort between the Greater London Authority, London councils and central government. The first accommodation available for rough sleepers was in east London.

“Since the Government’s call to get rough sleepers off the streets, our outreach teams have provided places for 249 rough sleepers in hotels or serviced apartments so they can social distance and self-isolate if necessary. There is a huge logistical operation in place every day to keep people safe, fed, stocked with medical supplies and other essentials,” said a spokesperson for Westminster council.

“We are currently working together with national Government, the GLA and other London boroughs to ensure that as many rough sleepers as possible get the support they need to stay safe during these difficult times.”

Haringey council, meanwhile was surprised to find the finger of blame being pointed at them.

Cllr Emine Ibrahim, cabinet member for housing at Haringey, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic is a global crisis — our priority is making sure that people who are sleeping rough are safe and have somewhere they can self-isolate. There are 15 people from Haringey staying in Westminster. We have been providing three meals a day, daily welfare calls and access to support.

“Moving people out of the borough is never our first choice, but councils across London have needed to do this in order to keep people off the streets during this crisis. Our teams are working tirelessly to support those who need it. I would urge anyone who sees someone sleeping rough in Haringey, or anywhere in London, to tell Streetlink. It could save someone’s life.”

Like most London boroughs, many of Haringey’s Covid-19 emergency placements have been made outside the borough during the outbreak. More than 60 percent of these are in North and North East London. While 15 placements are in Westminster the council says they have been working to secure more local provision, and all of these people are due to return to Haringey in mid-May.

“Pimlico Mutual Aid helped us with delivering food shopping (which Haringey funded) for a three-day period when we first moved people in,” said a spokesperson for Haringey. “Since then we have provided everything via our own arrangements. Every one of our placements in Westminster is in receipt of three meals a day, as well as daily welfare calls and telephone support to access relevant services and housing options. It is incorrect to say we have not been providing support.

“In Haringey, we have a multi-agency team made up of Homes for Haringey, Haringey Council and Street Outreach services working tirelessly to help keep people off the streets,” said a spokesperson.

Westminster stated that there was no disagreement between the two councils over the way the accommodation scheme was working.

In the London Borough of Camden council leader Georgia Gould said that there were 190 hotel and hostel rooms made available to help rough sleepers. 

However, the Soup Kitchen in Whitfield Street in Fitzrovia is still serving up to 150 people a day. Most of them are sleeping rough and some of them were desperate for fresh drinking water.

The Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association has written to the secretary of state for housing urging the government to seize the opportunity to address the chronic shortage of affordable housing.

“Government must put a long term plan in place to address the circumstances that caused people to resort to sleeping rough in the first place. Without such a plan to address housing needs in the UK people will merely return to the streets to live. This will not only have a terrible impact on their own lives but also the environment for people living and working in central London,” said the letter.

There were 1,136 people estimated to be sleeping rough in London on a single night in autumn 2019.

‘I might have died if they hadn’t rescued me’: life inside the new hotels for the homeless, the Guardian, 7 May 2020.