Coronavirus: Extra accommodation secured for North’s homeless

Plans also in place to enable people in temporary accommodation to self-isolate

20 healthcare workers from the Belfast Respiratory Team have released a video calling on people to stay at home to help limit the spread of coronavirus. Video: Belfast Health and Social Care Trust/Reuters

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Accommodation will be available for anyone who is homeless during the coronavirus crisis, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive has said.

Temporary accommodation units for 200 people have been secured in locations across the North, including in hotels and B&Bs with extra places also available in hostels. These are in addition to some of 2,600 units of temporary accommodation already available.

Plans have also been put in place to ensure that anyone in temporary accommodation who needs to self-isolate will be able to do so.

A spokesman for the executive said contingency planning for coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, was at an “advanced stage” and there were also other options available if needed.

“We are very confident our teams will be able to respond to future need as it arises,” the spokesman said.

Properties usually used to house families while major structural upgrades are completed on their own homes can also be used, and additional funds have been approved to assist anyone presenting as homeless who may need furniture for their accommodation.

Measures have been taken to ensure “that the front-line organisations working with those who are experiencing homelessness are provided with the additional funds they need to operate, including resources to secure additional temporary staff,” the spokesman said.

Cross-Border divergence

There are significant differences to how homelessness is assessed and measured between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

In the North many households that are officially recorded as homeless are in fact living somewhere that is deemed unsuitable. This could be as a result of affordability, the property being unfit or unsuitable or in cases of severe overcrowding.

The housing executive’s figures show that the body made 3,354 placements in temporary accommodation in the financial year 2018-2019. It estimated that there were 38 rough sleepers in Northern Ireland in November 2018.

Rough sleepers cannot be compelled to move into temporary accommodation, but it is understood some have done so in recent weeks because of concerns over coronavirus.

Staff have had been “working continually since the onset of this situation and we have a central Covid-19 planning team in place,” the spokesman said.

“We will continue to fulfil our statutory homeless obligations during this period.

“We are working very closely with the Department for Communities, the Public Health Agency, the Department for Health and local homeless providers to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable at this time.”

All public reception areas in housing executive offices have been closed because of coronavirus. However, staff are continuing to work from their offices and should be contacted by telephone.