Dozens of homeless people will be moved out of Stoke-on-Trent’s main night shelter to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council is looking to relocate occupants of the Macari Centre in Hanley, who could be at greater risk of infection due to the difficulty of self-isolating in the dormitory-style facility.
The government has instructed local authorities to move homeless people out of shelters and into ‘appropriate accommodation’ by the end of the week.
Minister for local government Luke Hall wrote to councils on Thursday and stressed the importance of working with partner agencies to support homeless people during the coronavirus crisis, as they may be particularly vulnerable due to underlying health problems.
City council leader Abi Brown said the authority was aiming to move people out of the 48-bed Macari Centre by the end of Sunday, in line with the government instructions. This could mean relocating them into private sector accommodation.
She said: “We have been working with various partners over the last week to try to find appropriate alternative accommodation.
“There are a couple of options we are exploring – it needs to be accommodation that has the right facilities and is in the right location, as we really don’t want to have to move people out of the city.
“Hopefully we will be able to move people out by the end of Sunday.”
The Macari Centre, in Regent Road, was opened by former Stoke City manager Lou Macari in 2016 in partnership with the city council, which owns the building.
Since the centre opened it has been packed out most nights, and it is set to move to a larger facility, with the current site earmarked for housing.
The council’s rough sleeper team, provided by Brighter Futures, has expanded its services in response to the coronavirus crisis.
Mobile phones are being handed out to rough sleepers so they can be kept informed about healthcare appointments, and to help the council keep track of their location. The team is also providing free food to rough sleepers and to other accommodation providers.
There were an estimated 16 rough sleepers in the city when the council carried out its annual count in November, down from a peak of 34 in 2018.
Mrs Brown added: “We are working with partners to ensure that all homeless people in the city have the same protection against Covid-19 as everyone else.
“We are actively exploring options to make sure that no one is forced to sleep rough during this crisis and that everyone in supported accommodation is able to self-isolate in line with Government guidance and keep themselves safe.
“This includes options to significantly increase the number of beds available in the city by working with partners across all sectors including private companies.”
In his letter to councils, Mr Hall urges them to prevent homeless people ‘from congregating in facilities such as day centres and street encampments where there is a higher risk of transmission’.
He also says they need to urgently procure ‘self-contained’ accommodation for people on the streets.
Mr Hall says: “Given the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday night that the public should be staying in their homes wherever possible, it is now imperative that rough sleepers and other vulnerable homeless are supported into appropriate accommodation by the end of the week.
“We know that this requires funding. Last week, the Government announced £1.6bn for local authorities to respond to other Covid-19 pressures including for services helping the most vulnerable, including homeless people.
“This grant will cover all costs incurred in the first phase of the response, but we will keep future funding need under review.”
Anyone concerned about someone sleeping rough in Stoke-on-Trent should contact the Rough Sleepers Team on 0800 970 2304.