‘It’s like giving people a treat, then taking it away’ – the battle to stop another rise in rough sleeping

At the start of lockdown, 15,000 homeless people were moved into hotels – raising hopes rough sleeping could be ended. Six months on, optimism is in short supply

For 11 weeks this spring, Martin, 62, was accommodated at the government’s expense in a Holiday Inn in east London, taken off the streets as part of the drive to house all rough sleepers to prevent the spread of Covid-19. After 20 years of sleeping rough in London, Newcastle, Bristol and Edinburgh, he appreciated the break. He particularly enjoyed having a television with a remote control, and caught up on Netflix, making his way through Peaky Blinders, series one to six.

In July, he returned to sleeping in shop doorways near Trafalgar Square in central London, believing that there was little prospect of being offered somewhere more permanent to live when there were thousands of others waiting for homes. “They haven’t got the places for everyone. I left of my own accord, and they were quite happy for me to leave,” he says. He is determined to make the best of it, preparing to sleep wrapped in blue plastic tarpaulin bought from Argos, beneath the glare of shopfront light filtered through the huge smiling faces of healthy models advertising hiking boots. A few paces away, diners eat their meals at the new pavement tables set up outside Honest Burgers, unflustered by the line of people readying themselves for bed on the opposite side of the street.

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