On 1 April 2020, we asked the UK and Welsh Governments for five key things to help keep our staff and the people we support safe during the Coronavirus outbreak.
We asked for priority testing for our frontline staff
We are pleased to see that the total testing capacity in Wales now stands at 2,000 tests per day, and are grateful for the clarification that our frontline support staff are classed as key workers alongside other health and social care workers.
Whilst it is clearly sensible that those individuals displaying symptoms of COVID-19 and their family members should be prioritised for testing, we hope that as capacity increases other frontline staff will also be able to register a tests without having to wait for symptoms to develop.
As support workers deal with large numbers of people face to face on a daily basis, they have a higher risk of exposure to the coronavirus, and therefore deserve the reassurance of a test result and be confident that they are healthy and safe to continue their work.
We asked for Personal Protective Equipment for our frontline staff
We are pleased to confirm that thanks to the generosity of individuals and businesses, as well as the hard work of colleagues in the housing support sector, we currently have sufficient PPE to continue running all of our day-to-day operations.
This has been greatly helped by the clarification issued by Public Health Wales on the 21 April, which provided some welcome advise on situations where PPE is not required and maintaining social distance is a more effective mitigation to the risk of infection.
We now ask only that the official advice is kept up to date should there be any developments in the scientific evidence on the use of PPE.
We asked that our service users should not be unfairly targeted by enforcement
We were initially concerned that the complex needs of many of our service users may make it harder for them to abide by the instruction to stay at home and refrain from congregating or meeting friends outside their immediate households.
Since lockdown began in March we have been pleased to note that the Welsh Police forces are being very supportive of our work to advise and protect those experiencing homeless, particularly those who had been sleeping rough.
There have of course been incidents where police officers have had to ask groups of people to move on, but by and large there has been positive work by the police and other agencies to resolve complex issues where they have been identified.
So far, very few of our service users have been issued with fines under the emergency coronavirus powers.
We asked for accommodation for all people sleeping rough
We have been delighted to see that so many people who had been sleeping rough prior to the crisis have been housed in temporary accommodation.
This is a testament to the hard work by all the Welsh local authorities for identifying and securing vacant hotel rooms to be used as emergency accommodation, liaising with the local outreach teams to find their service users and assigning rooms.
This also could not have been achieved without the £10m of emergency funding provided by the Welsh Government, and we are extremely grateful for this.
Our Rough Sleepers Intervention Teams have confirmed that where they would normally be seeing between 40-80 clients on the daily breakfast runs, they are now seeing only one or two individuals, if at all, suggesting most have been housed and are managing to stay indoors.
This is an unprecedented success.
We asked for assurances that people would not be released from prison into homelessness
We have been working closely with HM Prisons & Probation Service to ensure that accommodation can be found for all people due for release from Welsh prisons, including those who were released early to relieve pressure on busy prisons facing a potential coronavirus epidemic within the estate.
Now more than ever, it is vital that nobody is released from prison without a home to return to, and we will be closely monitoring the situation to ensure it does not deteriorate during the current crisis.
Firstly, we believe that we now have a once in a lifetime opportunity to end rough sleeping in Wales for good.
Given that the majority of individuals now seem to be in emergency accommodation provided by the local authorities, this is an excellent time to engage with each and every one to understand their specific circumstances, and develop an action plan to get them straight into more permanent accommodation.
We cannot let this opportunity go to waste, as it could see people heading straight back to the streets as soon as lockdown is lifted.
We would like to see the Welsh Government fund local authorities to commission a series of rapid rehousing projects, in order to seize this opportunity, develop relationships with those currently in the emergency accommodation, and work to find a permanent home for each person, to live in long after coronavirus drifts into memory.
This is also an excellent opportunity for both housing associations and private landlords across Wales, as this could mean guaranteed rental income at a time when the housing market has become very sluggish.
Secondly, we would like to see Welsh Government continue to develop more safeguards for those who are currently renting their homes, but due to the pandemic and the subsequent loss of income may face homelessness without urgent support from government and the housing sector.
Whilst we were pleased to see a moratorium on all eviction proceedings before the Welsh courts, we remain deeply concerned that tenants who have fallen behind on rent payments could face eviction notices as soon as this suspension is lifted.
We believe that the amended Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 would provide significant additional protection for tenants as soon as it is brought into force, but we would encourage Welsh Government to closely monitor the situation and take whatever steps necessary to prevent an increase in homelessness once the pandemic has passed, as tenants in Wales face a deeply uncertain future.
The people of Wales have made huge sacrifices to fight this global pandemic.
We’ve all seen this, whether through their continued work on the frontline of health and social services, or through remaining at home to prevent the spread of the infection. Because of this, they deserve their Governments to do everything in their power to support them to get their lives back to normal, without fear of losing their homes.
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Show your support on social media, and contact your government representatives – your AM (Assembly Member) and/or your MP (Member of Parliament).
Ask them to support our requests and help keep everyone safe.
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If you have any questions or comments about the services we provide across Wales, you can contact our Policy & Public Affairs team via firstname.lastname@example.org