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Sunday, June 06, 2021

A very British symbol of failing housing and social policy

If there was one upside of the pandemic it was that all the UK's governments started to address the homeless crisis that has beset this country for some time. Ministers realised that having people living rough or sofa surfing would just exacerbate infection rates and put lives at risk. I don't suppose it occurred to many of them that the life expectancy of a homeless person is much shorter than the average and that would have been a good reason to do somethng earlier, including initiating the sort of investment in tackling homelessness that was prompted by lockdown.

Unfortunately, not every government invested wisely. In Wales, we used the crisis to accelerate housing first initiatives, and put in place more emergency accommodation and beefed up support, especially around mental health and substance abuse. In England, it seems that it was all about sweeping the problem under the carpet, a short-term solution that would disappear once the crisis was over, putting us back at square one.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in what is happening in Cornwall. The Guardian reports on claims by a local charity that vulnerable homeless people have been moved out of hotels in Cornwall to make way for police and government officials attending this week’s G7 summit:

Disc Newquay has said that many people who have been living in hotel rooms under rolling short-term contracts during the pandemic had been told to leave, before the summit of the world’s seven largest advanced economies at a luxury hotel in Carbis Bay.

“Most of the hotel accommodation from Bodmin down has been block-booked for the G7,” said Monique Collins, the charity’s manager. “We have people in hotels in Camborne, Redruth, Truro, St Austell and Newquay – and they have all been moved out.”

Collins said the hundreds of summit bookings had added to pressures on emergency homeless accommodation in the county, leaving many people with even fewer options. However, Cornwall county council blamed the tourist season for shortages of temporary accommodation.

The police have booked more than 4,000 rooms at almost 200 venues across Devon and Cornwall. The Cabinet Office, which has also has made hundreds of room bookings, said that it had booked only commercially available rooms.

About 130 homeless people had been moved from hotels to make way for paying guests, according to Disc. Seven had to leave Sandy Lodge Hotel, Newquay, on 24 May to accommodate some of the 5,000 police officers who have been drafted in from outside Cornwall. Some were moved into other hotels only to be moved again.

This is a massive failure of public policy on the part of the UK Government, nor does it look good to be throwing vulnerable people back onto the streets to make room for international dignitaries. It is reputed that the cost of this summit is £70 million. Important as it is, just think what a sum of that magnitude could do for Cornwall's homelessness situation. Perhaps the government could provide another £70 million and do both.
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