More than a thousand families in Merseyside became homeless during the first lock-down – and campaigners warn many more could find themselves in this situation in the coming months.
The latest official figures from the government have revealed that 1,071 households in our area were found to be homeless or threatened with homelessness between April and June.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that they were sleeping rough on the street – just that they had no stable accommodation and were forced to seek assistance from their council.
This most commonly happens because of eviction due to rent arrears, but can also be the result of relationship breakdown between partners, domestic abuse, or other violence or harassment.
The number is not as high as it might have been, thanks to Government measures such as the six-month ban on evictions.
It had dropped from 1,431 Merseyside households who were found to be homeless between January and March, and was down from 1,440 between April and June last year.
However, campaigners and homelessness charities say the number will likely rise as the economic effects of the pandemic are fully felt – particularly during the second lockdown.
It is unclear whether or not the evictions ban will be reinstated at this time.
Often, people who experience homelessness problems suffer food poverty issues and Merseyside foodbanks are anticipating an increase in people seeking help because of homelessness concerns.
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Simon Huthwaite, operations manager for St Andrew’s Community Network in Clubmoor in Liverpool – which runs North Liverpool Foodbank – said: “Under Covid-19, we have seen a new type of person trying to access the foodbank.
“What we are seeing is more families and more children being fed through the foodbank network. And we are seeing a change in the reasons for people using foodbanks. So if you went back to a year ago, the top two reasons why people need a foodbank are benefit-related.
“What we’ve seen this year is that the number one reason for referral has changed. While benefit sanctions are up there, the vast majority of vouchers that are issued are because of low income, so you can postulate from that data that a lot of families are going to be struggling to pay for household bills and rent. So it’s no surprise to me that over 1,000 families have been made homeless over this period.
“St Andrew’s gives debt advice and we support about 900 people a year with this. And this figure will include people for whom homelessness is a real risk. When they default on payments they might find the bailiffs coming and they might lose their homes.
“I think we are only going to see an increase of this type of activity as we come out of lock-down. At the moment bailiffs are on hold and debt agencies are not pursuing people actively because of the lock-down, but that means that potentially people’s debts are still increasing while lock-down is happening and they will come out of lock-down in a worse position than when they went into lock-down.”
The ECHO has learnt of harrowing situations that some people have found themselves in.
Simon added: “They (the two people) had both been sharing a room in someone else’s flat but when Covid struck they were forced to move out and ended up sofa surfing and sleeping in the local park.
“I suppose there is a common misconception that foodbanks feed homeless people. This is categorically not the case. The vast majority of our referrals are for working people who, due to low income and then some form of crisis, find themselves in need of emergency food support.
“Covid has seen more people than ever before being unable to save and manage crises when they happen. The average use of a foodbank per person in North Liverpool is 1.9, which indicates that we do not have large numbers of people relying on the set up and this is precisely what it is designed to achieve. It is short term emergency provision for people in a crisis and not meant for long term support.
“Since Covid struck, we have fed more families and children than ever before. Between April and June 2019, we fed 3,363 people, of whom, 1,300 were children under the age of 16 and the main reasons for this were ‘low income’ and benefit-related. In 2020, the same period saw more people fed (4,422 adults and 1,544 children), but the main reasons for referral were ‘low income’, ‘other’ which we think is mainly Covid-specific and ‘sickness’ which is definitely Covid-related.
“I have no problem believing that homelessness is a huge and growing issue for the people of this city. We will continue to provide this sadly much-needed service for as long as we have to.”
To help those in need of help, St Andrew’s Community Network has embarked on an ambitious programme of creating pantries across North Liverpool.
So far, seven are up-and-running, and six of these were set up under Covid.
Many of those found to be homeless are being housed in temporary accommodation.
Across Merseyside, 528 households were stuck in B&Bs, hostels and other temporary homes during the first national lockdown.
That was down from 569 families in January and March, but up from 398 between April and June last year. The number included 369 children.
The relatively small decrease in the number of households in temporary accommodation is at least partly due to the huge effort made by charities, councils and the government to get people off the streets during the first phase of the pandemic.
It may also be partly due to families being stuck in temporary accommodation as well as new households entering it, as people can spend months and sometimes years in this situation.
Nationally, at the end of June 98,300 homeless households in England were living in temporary accommodation.
The charity Shelter – which campaigns to end homelessness – said the rise of 7% in just three months is “unprecedented”, having increased from 92,190 households at the end of March.
Within that, the number in emergency accommodation increased by 14% to 17,180 households – which reflects the efforts made to get rough sleepers off the streets. Even with the eviction ban in place, many people were tipped into homelessness.
Between April and June 2020, 63,570 households approached their local council and were found to be homeless or at risk of homelessness.
That was down from 76,460 households between January and March, however.
The three most common triggers of homelessness during the initial lock-down period were no longer being able to stay with families and friends (33%), the loss of a private tenancy (11%) and domestic abuse (11%).
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “When coronavirus first struck, there were already too many people without a safe place to call home.
“Families across the country were terrified they would face eviction and homelessness in the middle of a pandemic. We cannot go back to that.
“The evictions ban meant many could stay safe in their homes and there was a national effort to help thousands off the streets.
“With a new national lockdown approaching and Covid cases on the rise, the government must move again to make sure no one is forced from their home this winter by banning evictions nationwide.
“Right now, it’s too dangerous to allow anyone to become homeless. So, as well as preventing evictions, the government must direct councils to provide safe accommodation to anyone who is homeless or faced with the streets.”