The pandemic is making unprecedented numbers of people homeless in the UK — but these organizations are helping

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Paul Gwilym, center, founded the homeless services nonprofit Boomerang after being homeless himself.
  • The UK is witnessing a homelessness crisis that won't slow down as the pandemic continues to force people onto the streets.
  • Nonprofits such as Boomerang, in Wales, and Crisis, in England, are seeing unprecedented demand for homeless services.
  • The crisis could get even worse after September 20, when a ban on evictions in England and Wales is set to expire.
  • View more episodes of Business Insider Today on Facebook.

As the pandemic continues to force people out of work and onto the streets, the United Kingdom is witnessing a homelessness crisis that won't slow down.

And with a ban on evictions in England and Wales set to expire on September 20, experts fear the worst is yet to come.

One UK nonprofit, Boomerang, is seeing unprecedented demand for its homeless services. The Cardiff, Wales, organization provides basics like clothing, furniture, food, and household items, and during the height of the pandemic, it witnessed a big increase both in donations and of people in need of help.

"I had three, four vans sometimes on the road. I was hiring outside companies, self-employed people who wanted to work, needed to work," founder Paul Gwilym told Business Insider Today. "And before you knew it, we had 20 beds coming in, 30 beds going out, 40 washing machines coming in, and then 30 washing machines come out, all in a couple of days in a week. It was absolutely crazy."

Gwilym was once homeless himself. He had a job and an apartment he rented. But when his landlord gave him three weeks' notice, Gwilym found himself sleeping on the streets — an experience that has helped him empathize with the people he now serves.

"I didn't have enough money within my own business to afford a deposit — security deposit, your first month's rent, and credit checks," he said. "So that was it. I hit hard times. As a man, as a proud man, you failed."

The rate of homelessness in Cardiff was particularly high even before the pandemic started. But now the UK government has taken unprecedented steps to curb homelessness.

In March, it launched a scheme to move 15,000 people off the streets and into hotels and safe housing.

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Boomerang and other nonprofits have seen unprecedented demand for homeless services since the pandemic began.

Gwilym uses his life experience to help those in similar situations, like Lynn Bethell, who is moving into a two-bedroom apartment that was provided by the local government.

"This pandemic has kind of brought people together," Bethell said. "They want to help. They want to do things for each other, which is amazing. And I think that's a really good thing."

Despite the help of charities like Boomerang and the government response, over 20,000 households across the UK have been recently made homeless during the pandemic. 

"Right now, the big danger is people losing their jobs, and there are record numbers of people out out of employment or falling out of employment as we speak," said Jon Sparkes, the CEO of Crisis, another homeless services nonprofit.

"And that's the point at which people are having to make these awful decisions between paying their rent, buying clothes for their children, food for their family, heating for their house as we go into the winter."

When the ban on evictions is lifted on September 20, hundreds of thousands of renters in England and Wales could be in jeopardy.  The government will also have to decide what to do with the people who were moved into temporary housing during lockdown. 

"Booking 15,000 people into hotels isn't ending homelessness by any means, but the combination of that effort, policy changes, and regulation changes had an impact," Sparkes said. "So I think what it's done is shown what can be achieved if we work together on homelessness." 

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