Advice for the safe reopening of night homeless shelters

21 October 2020

The government has published new operating principles to support the safe opening of night shelters for homeless people this winter. Funding has also been announced to help local authorities provide more self-contained accommodation to avoid the use of shelters. The self-contained accommodation may be from housing associations and the new principles encourage extensive partnership working.

What are the principles for?

The operating principles aim to support local authorities and housing/shelter providers to mitigate the risks of coronavirus transmission in night shelters. The principles don’t endorse the opening of shelters where local partners have agreed that they are not necessary. Providers may need to take additional measures if there are special measures in place for the local area.

Separate guidance is available for hostel accommodation with individual self-contained rooms. The guidance for Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) sits outside of these operating principles, but areas should include these operating principles in their general winter provision planning.

The principles state that decisions to reopen shelters must be balanced by a coronavirus risk assessment and shelters should only be used as a last resort when no other options are available.

The principles include:

  • Deciding if a night shelter should or can re-open.
  • Access, referrals and triage.
  • Responsibility for providing accommodation for self-isolation.
  • Managing an outbreak.
  • Staff, volunteers and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
  • Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP).
  • Financial viability of the service.

The principles state that night shelters must have in place a number of Standard Operating Procedures for assessments, referrals and outbreaks before a shelter can open.

Partnership working advice for housing associations

The principles recommend joint working between a number of different bodies:

  • Local authority housing and rough sleeping teams to consider whether the risk of people sleeping rough in their area is so great that it requires a night shelter to open or whether there is a safer option such as self-contained accommodation.
  • Housing providers and local authority housing and public health teams to develop pathways to provide self-contained accommodation prior to re-opening shelters.
  • Commissioners and shelters to assess how they are able to meet current coronavirus guidelines in the shelters and plan their response, consulting with the local Director of Public Health, and local Health Protection Teams.
  • Providers, local housing and/or rough sleeping and local public health teams to ensure there is a pathway to refer individuals into the night shelter, including health assessment of guests before they enter and providing alternative accommodation until assessments can take place.
  • Local authorities and providers with local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) and NHS primary care commissioners to facilitate clinician support for assessment of pre-existing health conditions.
  • Providers with Local Resilience Forums and Strategic Migration Partnerships to assist those who have arrived into the UK within the past 14 days and have no accommodation to self-isolate into government accommodation.
  • Providers and local primary care, public health teams and rough sleeping teams to consider how they can support guests that face challenges maintaining social distancing.

Extra funding announced for the Cold Weather Fund

£10m will be allocated to the Cold Weather Fund to support councils get rough sleepers off the streets during the winter by helping them to provide more self-contained accommodation than usual. An additional £2m for faith and community groups aims to help them provide self-contained emergency accommodation for rough sleepers and will be administered by Homeless Link.

The Cold Weather Fund was launched in 2018 to enhance accommodation provision such as access to the private rented sector, provide space in existing supported housing projects and fund more emergency accommodation for rough sleepers through the winter.

The allocations of long-term Next Steps Accommodation Funding are also expected soon.

Who to speak to

Suzannah Young, Policy Officer