COVID-19 set a challenge for local government, and we rose to it. Whether it is Croydon or Camden, Havering or Hammersmith the story is the same – local government stepped up and delivered for local people. I have never been prouder to be Leader of Redbridge Council – despite a decade of austerity, we have gone above and beyond to protect our residents during the pandemic.
Despite huge budget decreases over the past ten years, local government has supported local people on the frontline of the pandemic. What we miss is not the capacity or expertise, let alone the passion and drive, but money to ensure our other services do not suffer because we pulled out all the stops for COVID-19.
In Redbridge, when faced with the pandemic, our priority was keeping our most vulnerable residents safe and well throughout the crisis, including our local rough sleepers.
Locally we have invested significantly in supporting rough sleepers. COVID-19 demanded we doubled down on our investment – rough sleepers needed somewhere safe to stay.
We quickly developed a range of additional accommodation and support to ensure there was something suitable for everyone. With partners, we transformed an existing shelter in Ilford to create yet another 34 spaces for rough sleepers.
BBC London recently visited the shelter and spoke to an elderly couple, placed there at the start of COVID-19. The couple made it clear that they could have died on the streets if it hadn't been for the council's intervention. They described the shelter in one word: “heaven”.
Earlier this year, we opened Malachi Place – one of the first homeless facilities in London to offer accommodation specifically to those with no recourse to public funding. This £5million joint venture of 42 self-contained flats, funded by Redbridge Council and managed by the Salvation Army, has served as the perfect refuge for rough sleepers to self-isolate in.
Pre-COVID investment, prior planning, extra resources and swift action at the start of the pandemic ensured we could accommodate 180 rough sleepers locally over the past four months – something we will continue to do.
When this crisis is eventually over, we will work even harder to ensure rough sleepers never have to return to the streets; that’s why we've agreed to invest a further £2.3million into supporting rough sleepers and ending homelessness. In 2018, my group pledged to end rough sleeping in Redbridge for good. I am determined to make that ambition a reality.
COVID-19 has shown the best of local government, national government is now pushing us to our limits. The best decisions are made closest to communities – for all our faults, councils are the only institutions who can work with residents, take swift action and deliver immediate concrete results. Remember, this should be the ‘new normal’. The government should honour their word on funding and ensure we continue to do right by our residents.
Leader of Redbridge
Cllr Jas Athwal