Lewisham Council permanently housed 38 rough sleepers during the Covid-19 pandemic, it emerged at the council’s overview and scrutiny business panel meeting on Tuesday (June 23). 

A further 138 have been put in temporary accommodation. 

Council bosses provided the details alongside a Covid-19 update report.   

On whether homeless people would continue to be housed, Kim Wright, the council’s chief executive, said despite obstacles, “there is an absolute commitment to rehouse permanently people who have been housed during the pandemic”.  

The report also provided details of death rates – the first registered in Lewisham from Covid-19 was on March 20.  

It included ONS figures that showed that as of May 29, 275 had died from the virus in the borough.  

A further 43 were recorded in the fortnight that followed.  

The report stated that Lewisham had the 11th highest number of deaths from Covid-19 of all London boroughs, but the fourth lowest in care homes.  

Presenting the report, Ms Wright said Lewisham had a three-phase recovery plan – exiting lockdown, transition, and ‘reinvention’. 

“The third phase, we’re calling reinvention, is the opportunity for us to think again about our services, our approaches and what it is that we’re able to do differently, making sure we’re responding always to the possibility of a further wave of Covid,” she said.  

Exiting lockdown will be up to the end of June, the aims of which include supporting staff, protecting critical services, and minimising the spread of infection.  

The transition phase is expected to run from July to December and will focus on consultation and assessment of the effect of Covid-19 on the borough.  

“There will need to be an extensive borough-wide impact assessment with residents, members, partners and local businesses in order to build an evidence base to inform policy and decision making.  

“This phase will focus on inequalities, analysing the various impacts of Covid-19 on those with protected characteristics to ensure that council services and local partnerships are working to shared objectives and are fit to tackle inequalities in a post-Covid Lewisham,” according to the report. 

Phase two will also focus on stabilising the council’s finances and service delivery for the short term, “while beginning to plan for the longer-term sustainability and stability of the organisation”.  

The reinvention phase, set to run from autumn onwards, will take the findings from phase two to inform how services are run in future.  

Committee members raised the importance of communications from the council, ensuring that residents were kept up to date with the work being done to protect them, as well as the need to keep collaboration with other sectors going.  

Members asked if the emergency changes to roads and footways would be reviewed after the Government’s announcement it would reduce the two-metre distance rule to one metre, which was confirmed by officers.  

Cllr Jim Mallory asked for backing to protect people in community centres as lockdown eases.  

“Some community centres deal with people who are extremely vulnerable and have severe health issues,” he said, adding that “as somebody who’s responsible for the reopening of one in the near future”, he would like support for being able to say “we don’t support [the one metre rule] for the particular client group that we have”.  

“In the determination to convince the country that everyone can now run around happily within a metre of each other, there are real issues […]” he said. 

Ms Wright said: “We will be looking at that very carefully, we won’t be rushing into any kind of reopening until we’ve done, with our public health colleagues, proper health-based risk assessments on how they might operate safely for people using them and of course staff. 

She added that the council would be “more than happy” to offer information and support to other community groups who’ve got the same dilemmas. 

Cllr Patrick Codd welcomed the “comprehensive report”, asked about increased pressures on parks as more people flock to them to socialise and drink, and whether toilets would reopen. 

He said there have been “almost festivals” in some parks.  

Ralph Wilkinson, head of public services, said: “Our parks and open spaces have been incredibly popular over the emergency, which is really great, but along with that has come some problems.” 

He said there has been a growing number of people socialising in them and “in some cases partying”. 

“We will continue to carry on with the approach we’ve taken. In terms of the toilets, they are a risk area, one of the hotspots of where you could catch Covid, which is one of the reasons why they were closed.  

“However, we have got a programme of opening them up now, and in some cases we’ll look at putting temporary toilets in place,” Mr Wilkinson said, adding that there would be a cleaning regime to make sure they are safe to use.  

“I’m meeting with the police later this week […] to look at particular problems in one or two parks we’ve got in the borough. 

“One of the suggestions is that we close that park, that option isn’t off the table but I am concerned that closing [it] would lead to further problems,” he said. 

Cllr Luke Sorba, chair of the children’s and young people select committee, asked about food poverty and free school meal vouchers, how children with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) would be supported, and how catching up on school work would be facilitated given the school holidays were approaching. 

The chief executive said: “The vouchers as things stand will be via the existing system, we’ve got just over 11,500 pupils who are eligible for free school meals 

“We’re also working with Lewisham Local to support families in need of food deliveries throughout the summer, we’re still working out what that might look like for families with NRPF.” 

On the catch-up programme, the £650 million funding scheme intended to help pupils catch up on missed schoolwork, she said the council was waiting for details from the Department for Education around what it will look like in pratice.  

“But we would want to make sure that we are using all the expertise and resources we’ve got available to us to make sure that that critical focus on enabling our children and young people to catch up on that absolutely crucial education is hugely important to us,” she said.