NORTHUMBERLAND County Council has prepared 17 of its empty properties in an effort to support homeless people through the coronavirus outbreak.

Last week, the Government called on local authorities to support rough sleepers and other vulnerable homeless people into accommodation as soon as possible, ideally by Sunday, March 29.

Asked about arrangements in Northumberland, a council spokesman said: “We’re aware of recent Government guidance and since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, we have been working on our empty properties to ensure residents in temporary accommodation can move into them in the short term. We now have 17 ready to move into.

“We are also seeking to establish a ‘local coordination cell’, which will bring together key partners to support the work we are doing around homelessness and rough sleeping, which will help protect those who may be at risk.

“While the issue of rough sleeping is not a significant issue in Northumberland and there are no night shelters or places where rough sleepers come together, which would place them at increased risk, we fully recognise the challenges they face in everyday life, which are now made worse because of the current situation.

“We are working with partners to ensure wherever possible that they can move into appropriate accommodation if necessary.”

Reacting to the Government’s call last week, Coun. James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Councils have been working hard to identify rough sleepers and homeless people, get them off the streets and into suitable accommodation and help protect them from the coronavirus.

“To help these efforts, some councils will need to call on the Government for urgent help to find accommodation and enforce this and have access to funding if they need to cover staffing and support costs.”

Earlier in the week, Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick had announced an initial £3.2million of emergency funding for councils to support rough sleepers if they need to self-isolate.

The Government also said it would continue to work closely with local authorities to keep this under review and ensure people have access to the support they need.