But despite fears that many have returned to the streets ahead of the third lockdown and the spread of the more infectious variant of Covid-19, ministers are refusing to restart the programme that saw homeless people given accommodation in spring last year.
However, data obtained by The Independent from local councils across England paints an even starker picture, showing that less than half of those housed under the programme, called “Everyone In”, have been moved into settled accommodation – raising questions about the accuracy of the government’s claims, and concern for those who are back on the streets.
An analysis of figures from 45 local authorities who responded to a data request by The Independent shows that 54 per cent are still in hotels, have been moved into other emergency housing or are no longer being supported by the council.
More than a fifth have either been evicted from emergency accommodation, or are recorded as leaving on their own terms.
Ministers are now being urged to protect those back on the streets – and those who have become homeless during the pandemic – from the “life-threatening” conditions created by the soaring rates of coronavirus infection and freezing weather, in line with Boris Johnson’s instruction for everyone to “stay at home”.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “During the first national lockdown the government recognised just how dangerous it is to be sleeping on the streets in the middle of a deadly pandemic and took an ‘Everyone In’ approach.
“We are now in a situation as bad, if not worse, than last March. The government must act urgently to direct councils to provide safe emergency accommodation to anyone who is at risk of sleeping rough.”
Data provided to The Independent by Manchester City Council shows that just over a quarter (27 per cent) of the 657 people housed under Everyone In in the area have been moved into settled accommodation or are receiving support to help them move into long-term housing.
Nearly a fifth (18 per cent) are still in Everyone In accommodation, 24 per cent abandoned their Everyone In accommodation, 20 per cent were evicted and 4 per cent have been recorded as “move-on unknown”.
Joe Lomas, operations manager at youth homelessness charity Centrepoint’s frontline service in Manchester, said the government claims that two-thirds of people had been moved on was not what he was seeing on the ground among young rough sleepers.
He said he could “count on one hand” the number of people the charity supports who have been housed under Everyone In and were now in long-term housing, and that this was due to a lack of support in emergency accommodation and a lack of move on options for young homeless people.
Mr Lomas said he believed that within the “settled accommodation” figures the government was including hostels, which he argued could not be considered a long-term solution.
“When we see the government saying, ‘Oh it’s worked because we’ve got all these people housed’, I don’t buy it and I can tell you from the point of view of young people that is not the case,” he said.
“It’s all very well getting them off the streets, but you need to be able to move them onto something that is more appropriate to their needs, and that is still missing. The resources just aren’t there to invest enough time and specialist support for these young people.”
Echoing his concerns, David Smith, chief executive of Oasis Community Housing, a charity that assisted people housed under the Everyone In scheme in Sunderland, Gateshead and Tameside, said a lack of support had led to people falling back onto the streets, or in some cases dying.
“As good as Everyone In has been, the problem is there’s not been that intensive, holistic, wraparound support for people, or if there has it’s been very patchy. Some people really struggled being in a hotel, and didn’t get the support they needed,” he said.
He described the case of one man who was placed 20 miles away in a hostel and left two hours after arriving because he received abuse from other residents because he wasn’t from the area.
Accusing ministers of failing to treat the permanent housing scheme – called “Next Steps” – with the same level of urgency as the initial programme, Mr Smith said a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to “break the back of homelessness” had been lost.
Councils and charities also complained of a lack of funding from central government to facilitate rough sleepers moving into long-term accommodation.
Ealing Council in West London, where only 139 of the 451 people housed under Everyone In have moved into settled accommodation, said the funding that the government provided at the beginning of lockdown was “nowhere near enough” to meet the cost.
Priya Tethi, policy adviser at the Local Government Association, which represents councils in England, said the funding model had led to some of the difficulties.
“There are a lot of application processes and a lot of uncertainty and a lot of short-termism at a time when councils really need to be focusing on delivering their services and planning for the long term,” she said.
“They need to be able to tackle the problems at an early stage, rather than the sticking plaster model we’re seeing with funding programmes like the Next Steps programme.”
MHCLG said the suggestion that more than a third of people had not been housed was “flawed” compared with its own figures, which it said were “more comprehensive”. On calls for the Everyone In scheme to be restarted, a spokesperson said the government continued “to work closely with councils and health services”.