Rough sleepers in Aylesbury could be back on the streets this winter
An end to the 'everyone in' policy could put people in Aylesbury in serious danger
Rough sleepers homed in hospitality accommodation in Aylesbury during the pandemic could be back on the streets next week.
On Monday (October 18), 10 people protected at Best Western Garden Court in Aylesbury face eviction.
Last April, the government implemented an 'everyone in' scheme to house rough sleepers at risk of catching Covid by putting them in unused hospitality venues.
It also supported people in temporary accommodation and shared homeless accommodations like housing shelters.
Now, with the 'everyone in' project over, those who were spared the harshness of a winter on the streets last year, are faced with uncertainty.
Bucks Council says it has made a concerted effort to rehome the hundreds of homeless people staying in hotels throughout the county. It sites over 200 people who are now in rented or shared properties following 'everyone in'.
But that doesn't solve the problem for those yet to be replaced indoors before the nights get extremely cold in a county still dealing with a high Covid infection rate.
James Darke is one of the residents facing eviction from the Best Western, he said: "It's the wrong time to be pushing people back onto the streets.
"We're talking about people in their 50s and 60s. We're heading into winter, it will be tough, people could die."
James didn't move into the hotel until February this year and was previously living in his car, meaning he is well aware of the danger and trouble people face living without shelter.
Another fear James raised was the use of the Vagrancy Act, which allows police officers to criminalise begging and rough sleeping.
Even during the 'everyone in' scheme, 21 Vagrancy Act cases made it to court in the Thames Valley.
The council has looked to relocate people without a place to call home in High Wycombe in a lot of cases, but this hasn't suited some people in Aylesbury who want to remain in the area.
James believes asking Aylesbury-based people to shift to the other side of the county in the Wycombe area breeches the 2016 Sub Allocation Policy, but the council disputes this.
The policy states: "Local authorities are required to devise housing allocation schemes which give ‘reasonable preference’ to certain categories of applicant but, otherwise, they have a discretion over how they allocate their housing stock within a broad framework set out by law which must be followed and statutory guidance to which it must have regard.
When reached for a comment on rough sleepers impending evictions from hotels, Councillor Nick Naylor, cabinet member for housing, homelessness and regulatory Services said: "During the Covid-19 pandemic, and following the ‘everyone in’ directive in March 2020 from MHCLG (now the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities - DLUHC) over 300 individuals were accommodated by Buckinghamshire Council.
"A small number of these clients were previously rough sleeping whilst some had lost their accommodation for a variety of reasons. Of these individuals, over 200 have now been assisted by the council and external agencies and moved on from the accommodation provided by the council into supported housing and private rented accommodation.
"The council has ensured that specialist support and assistance has been available to all clients during this time.
"DLUHC has clearly stated that it now expects local authorities to end the use of hotels and other temporary accommodation for those still being accommodated under “Everyone In” and that additional funding will no longer be available for this initiative.
"Councils are expected to make plans to move all of these clients on to safe and appropriate accommodation. Buckinghamshire Council and a number of its partners have been working with the affected clients to achieve this and the Council has served notice on the clients that remain in the emergency accommodation to advise them that their placements are coming to an end.
"However, the Council has undertaken to work closely with the affected clients and to provide intensive support where required, to ensure that the needs of each client are considered when moving on to new accommodation.
"If a short amount of additional time is required to secure appropriate on accommodation, then the council will also review any notice period if there are exceptional circumstances, and where the client is clearly working proactively with the council.
"The council does not have a duty to offer temporary accommodation to these remaining clients, and the decision to extend its offer past the end point of the original government initiative was discretionary and felt to be in the best in the interests of the affected clients.
"The council has not breached any policy or protocol in the conduct of this activity and DLUHC advice and guidance has been followed."
Councillor Robin Stuchbury has raised concerns around how people will be supported now 'everyone in' is over in recent cabinet meetings.
He said: "I am really concerned that the government has acted in stealth why many things going on presently in the land which is taking focus away from this very important topic.
"The government is putting everybody out for Christmas in effect after letting everybody in during the pandemic which coincidentally hasn’t finished.
"I am concerned about the change of circumstances for vulnerable individuals."
The Bucks Herald contacted the government to discuss the impact the end of 'everyone in' was having on homeless citizens.
A DLUHC spokesperson said: “We have made huge progress to bring rough sleepers off the streets during the pandemic and helped over 37,000 people into safe and secure accommodation, including over 90 in Buckinghamshire.
“We continue to build on the success of Everyone In and have been clear with councils that those helped into accommodation must be offered the tailored support they need and that no one should find themselves back on the street without this.
“We have been in regular contact with Buckinghamshire Council and they have assured us that they are being flexible on dates for when hotel placements are coming to an end and that they are working with the individuals concerns to find them suitable accommodation.”
The spokesperson further advised that funding has been increased nationally to tackle homelessness with £750 million being spent nationally this year.
The government says it has increased spending on homelessness by 81%.
After lodging initial enquiries with the authorities the Bucks Herald was contacted by Best Western Garden Court residents who claimed new people were being placed in the hotels, who had been spotted on the streets.
These new hotel residents directly replaced three people who were living there and now had nowhere to go.
This development ostensibly contradicts the messaging both the government and council provided, stating everyone in was finished and rough sleepers were being moved out of venues like the Best Western.
A council spokesperson said in response: "The council cannot comment on individual client circumstances. As stated in our earlier response, the council and its partners have been working with all clients who have been served Notice in order to try to secure a move to alternative accommodation in a planned way.
"This has included being flexible where clients are working pro-actively with the council and its partners and also potentially extending Notice periods etc. when necessary to help secure a move.
"Although the specific “Everybody In” initiative has ended, the ongoing Rough Sleeping Initiative programme in Buckinghamshire is continuing and is providing outreach and support services for rough sleepers. In some instances, this will include providing emergency accommodation for rough sleepers on a case by case basis.
"However, unlike “Everybody In”, any emergency accommodation that is provided is only for a short term. In instances where a client was previously accommodated via the council and is now rough sleeping, the Council will continue to offer help and support if the client requires it and wants to engage with the council and its partner agencies."
The council has until Monday to relocate hotel residents in desperate need of a new solution.