Even the most optimistic reports claimed that it would take a decade to end homelessness in Britain. Then, in April, a government minister declared that homelessness was almost completely eradicated, seemingly overnight.
It was called the “Everyone In” scheme — an emergency £3.2 million in government funding to help local authorities immediately get people who sleep rough off the streets so they could self-isolate from COVID-19 while it was at its worst.
There’s nuance and complications here, of course. While the UK’s housing minister insisted homelessness fell by 90%, some charities claimed it actually rose — largely as a result of a rise in unemployment due to COVID-19 impacting people who didn’t have access to public funds.
The scheme did, however, reportedly house 5,400 people, showing the whole country what might be possible with a concerted effort to end homelessness.
All over the country, there were beautiful stories of success — such as George Murray from Northampton, who moved into his own flat after sleeping rough for 15 years. And although the funding was pulled in May, that feeling of hope has lingered.
That’s why in Portsmouth, a port city on England’s south coast, there are plans to ensure every single person who sleeps rough has somewhere permanent that they can call home.
There were approximately 200 homeless people in Portsmouth who were temporarily housed in hotels during lockdown.
But the council has made moves to offer permanent accommodation: 40 people have already been found private rented homes, while 60 have moved into shared housing. Then 110 year-long leases have been signed in student flats that are no longer needed because of the pandemic, according to local newspaper The News.
Everyone will reportedly have a place to live by the end of September, with some additional spaces provided by a night shelter adapted to meet social distancing guidelines.
The funding has come from a £105 million government grant to help ensure people who were moved off the streets during lockdown didn’t immediately return as soon as the “Everyone In” scheme ended.
It’s unclear, however, how much Portsmouth will specifically receive from the cash injection — while homelessness charity Crisis has calculated that it would cost £282 million to rehouse and support everyone who had been in hotels during lockdown for the next 12 months.
It is also not regarded as a long-term solution, according to the BBC. It’s just an attempt to meet short-term demand until decisions can be made on further policies later in the year.
Darren Sanders, cabinet member in Portsmouth City Council for housing, called it a “once in a lifetime chance” to end homelessness.
“Every rough sleeper is a human being, not a statistic, and these ambitious plans come after listening to and assessing every person we are housing,” Sanders said.
"This package enables us to offer secure, safe accommodation to those who want it, while we work with partners on plans we want to last for years,” he continued. "It is clear from listening to rough sleepers that they want support, not just a place to live, and that is what we will offer."
Prior to lockdown in February, a BBC inquiry revealed that 28,000 people were found to be sleeping rough in Britain in the preceding 12 months — five times the official number. Meanwhile, there are approximately 280,000 people who are homeless in the UK, according to homelessness charity Shelter.