At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, as the stay-at home regulations came into force in Wales, I announced £10m of extra funding to ensure no one was left without access to accommodation. This meant that everyone could follow public health advice on basic hygiene, and hand washing, enabled them to follow social distancing guidelines and ensured they could self-isolate if they become ill.
The response has been incredible. More than 800 people have been accommodated since the lock down began. Many people were previously sleeping on our streets; others were destitute because they had no recourse to public funds, and many were ‘hidden homeless’ – living precariously as ‘sofa surfers’ or in unsuitable temporary accommodation.
The collaborative effort of the sector to accommodate these people has been incredible. I applaud their efforts but also acknowledge the huge challenges involved and the ongoing challenge.
This does not mean we have resolved homelessness in Wales. If anything we have achieved a temporary reprieve, but it remains our goal to end homelessness.
The Welsh Government will not see people forced back onto the streets. We have a unique opportunity to change the services and change lives – for the better and make homelessness rare, brief and unrepeated.
The £10m emergency funding announced in March is not time limited although it is of course by its very nature finite so we need to be collectively planning for the next steps on this journey.
I am today announcing the next ‘phase’ of our response to homelessness – a plan for rehousing everyone who has been provided with emergency shelter during the coronavirus pandemic. This will be accompanied by service transformation and, up to £20m of additional funding.
We will be asking every local authority in Wales to prepare a phase two plan which sets out how they will ensure that no one need return to the street, focussing on innovation, building and remodelling to transform the accommodation offer across Wales.
These plans will be able to secure funding – revenue and capital – from the £20m fund. We will expect to see creativity, partnership and a willingness to invest in these programmes, which will bring long-term savings and benefits to our public services as well as the potential to transform the lives of the individuals involved.
The plan will be published in full after the first in a series of engagement events to support local authorities, and all their partners, in planning for the next phase due to be held later this week.
Local authorities are already working intensively with people in emergency accommodation to ensure effective, supported move on to long term housing options. Clarity about expectations and the support we as a Government can offer for the next phase will support them in this work.
The plan is based firmly on the recommendations I received just before this crisis took hold from the Homelessness Action Group. I am grateful to the group for its ongoing engagement and help in considering those recommendations in the context of COVID 19 and the current situation.
I am truly excited about the opportunity we have before us. It will be highly challenging, but based on what we have achieved together thus far I am confident that we can now make a significant step change toward achieving our goal of ending homelessness in Wales.