HOTELS have taken in 55 homeless people in West Berkshire during the coronavirus crisis, to help them socially distance.

But now plans are being drawn up for where they can go next, as one councillor warned of a “mass exodus” of homeless people coming out of hotels and back onto the streets.

At the end of March the government told councils to move all rough sleepers off the streets and into hotels. All but one rough sleeper in West Berkshire moved into a hotel within a week. Volunteers like the food bank and soup kitchen helped provide food and other support.

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Gary Lugg, head of planning and development at West Berkshire Council, gave details of what happened to the health and wellbeing board on May 21.

Mr Lugg said: “We had zero rough sleepers in West Berkshire — which in my 20 years is the first we have ever achieved that. It’s quite phenomenal.”

As well as rough sleepers, 10 people staying at the homeless hostel Two Saints were also moved into a hotel. The hostel was struggling because of people sharing rooms who had underlying health issues, being unable to socially distance.

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The council also put into hotels people who became homeless during the crisis, and some recently released from prison who didn’t have anywhere else to go.

At most, 55 people were staying in hotels, “the bulk of whom are still there”. But now housing officers are planning to transition them out of hotels.

Councillor Steve Masters (Green, Speen) said: “Shielding of the homeless in hotels is obviously not sustainable indefinitely, so what is needed as we transition away? How do you plan to stop there being a mass exodus onto the streets?”

Mr Lugg said: “We’re now looking at how we’re going to transition the 55 people into more permanent accommodation. There’s a real potential here for zero rough sleepers going forward. That’s the goal.”

The council plans to produce personal housing plans for people staying in the hotels, and support them with health problems and finding work; let them stay in hotels “for the medium term”; and help find and pay for privately rented accommodation.

The government banned landlords from evicting tenants for three months, starting in April. Mr Lugg said the temporary ban “helped hugely”. But the ban lifts at the end of June, and housing charity Shelter is warning a wave of evictions will follow.

A similar number of people in West Berkshire are asking for help with housing as before the crisis, about 20 to 30 each month.

Mr Lugg said: “The numbers are about the same, we’re just treating them very differently now. Talking to them online and over the telephone, and helping people stay in their existing properties rather than getting evicted.”