Norwich homeless service fears 'tsunami' when Covid's economic toll hits

Homeless Andy Francis who is living on the streets of Norwich during the cold weather. Picture: Simon Finlay

Dr Jan Sheldon, from Norwich-based St Martins, said she is preparing for the situation to get much worse in Norfolk and the rest of the UK as the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is felt. - Credit: Simon Finlay

As part of a special series, Daniel Moxon looks at how efforts to support the homeless in Norwich have fared during the pandemic.

Frontline workers in Norwich have already been working flat out to support homeless people during the coronavirus pandemic – but one of those at the forefront of that work fears the worst is yet to come.

Dr Jan Sheldon is chief executive of St Martins, which has been working alongside other Pathways agencies to provide even more support than usual since the virus hit.

Her team of workers is "absolutely exhausted" from their efforts over the last 11 months, with extra cleaning protocols adding to an already heavy workload.

But she fears the worst is yet to come, and is bracing for a deluge of new people in need of support once the economical effects of the pandemic are felt in full.

Dr Jan Sheldon, chief executive of St Martin's Housing Trust. Picture: St Martin's

Dr Jan Sheldon, chief executive of St Martins Housing Trust. - Credit: St Martins


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She said: "We're coping at the moment, but going forward, we can only begin to imagine the financial crisis that Covid will leave in its wake.

"Early suggestions around unemployment rates are that it will go to around 7.5 or 7.7pc by the end of this year, which is not out of kilter with the financial crisis we had in 2008. We’re heading into really difficult times, and it’s kind of the lull before the storm.

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"We’ve got everybody safe, but we’re waiting for a tsunami to hit us in terms of the level of unemployment, the amount of people who will lose their jobs and the amount of people who, as a result of that, could end up on the streets.

"What it will look like when we do have far more people on the streets, I don’t know. We don’t have enough accommodation to deal with what is potentially about to happen."

Martin Verney from Fishergate, Norwich, has homeless people living in his back garden. Picture: Nick Butcher

Dr Jan Sheldon, from Norwich-based St Martins, said she is preparing for the situation to get much worse in Norfolk and the rest of the UK as the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is felt. - Credit: Nick Butcher

Norwich City Council said it is working hard with landlords and tenants in a bid to lighten the load as much as possible, but added it has already seen a rise in the number of people seeking advice due to rent arrears caused by the financial impact of the virus.

Cabinet member for private sector housing Beth Jones said: "Help is available. Our housing advice team can provide tailored advice and support to help those struggling to pay their rent or who may be unaware of their rights.

"We urge Norwich landlords to continue to show flexibility and support to tenants whose income has been affected by coronavirus, and to see eviction as an absolute last resort."

Beth Jones from The Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk protest taking place in Norwich centre.

Norwich City Council cabinet member for private sector housing Beth Jones. - Credit: Steve Adams

More in this series

– How Norwich's homeless have been helped during coronavirus

– Norfolk's homeless encouraged to get Covid vaccine despite no JCVI prioritisation

– At least five homeless people died in Norfolk in 2020

– Big Issue seller on how lockdown pushed him closer to homelessness

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