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How coronavirus cleared a seaside town of rough sleepers overnight, but what happens next?

PUBLISHED: 08:32 27 July 2020 | UPDATED: 16:21 27 July 2020

Before the lockdown rough sleepers were a common sight in towns across Norfolk and in Norwich. Great Yarmouth is looking to add up to 60 one-bedroom flats to make sure people stay off the streets Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Before the lockdown rough sleepers were a common sight in towns across Norfolk and in Norwich. Great Yarmouth is looking to add up to 60 one-bedroom flats to make sure people stay off the streets Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Archant

Covid-19 has a lot to answer for but there has been one silver lining - the perhaps temporary, but total, eradication of rough sleeping.

Sheila Oxtoby, chief executive at Great Yarmouth Borough Council, says Covid created the conditions to end homelessness, but the challenge now is to keep people off the streets as lockdown is eased Picture: GYBCSheila Oxtoby, chief executive at Great Yarmouth Borough Council, says Covid created the conditions to end homelessness, but the challenge now is to keep people off the streets as lockdown is eased Picture: GYBC

In just one night Great Yarmouth Borough Council identified and attempted to house every single person sleeping on the town’s streets.

A small number did not comply, and there were a couple of evictions from B&B’s after problems with tenants in the weeks that followed.

But overall it was a conundrum that successive strategies had struggled to solve - indeed, the Government said the town had another five years to achieve what was carried out in 24 hours amid a global pandemic.

Sheila Oxtoby, council chief executive, says Covid was the key that made it happen.

Carl Smith, leader of Great Yarmouth Borough Council, says he is proud of what has been achieved for rough sleepers during the coronavirus pandemic   Picture: James Bass  /Ella WilkinsonCarl Smith, leader of Great Yarmouth Borough Council, says he is proud of what has been achieved for rough sleepers during the coronavirus pandemic Picture: James Bass /Ella Wilkinson

It could not have worked as well at any other time, she says, the challenge now being to end homelessness permanently as lockdown is eased and people potentially go back to their old ways.

Already the day-drinkers are clustering with cans on the steps of town centre buildings enjoying the sun.

These people and their “street acquired lifestyle” may not be homeless but are being targeted for help under a multi-million pound bid to build on the successes so far.

New figures have revealed that on March 23 under the “everyone in” programmme 31 rough sleepers were given a roof over their heads.

Councillor Carl Smith, leader of Great Yarmouth Borogh Council, said the tackling of homelessness had been one of the positive stories of the virus outbreak Picture: Ella WilkinsonCouncillor Carl Smith, leader of Great Yarmouth Borogh Council, said the tackling of homelessness had been one of the positive stories of the virus outbreak Picture: Ella Wilkinson

At its peak the council was housing 85 people deemed homeless or sofa surfing, and overall around 150 have been helped.

Of the original 31, 25 are still in council accommodation giving them an address and access to benefits and potentially jobs, and 24 have been given tenacies.

It is estimated around 75,000 were housed across the UK.

MORE: Seize ‘once in a generation’ chance to end rough sleeping, charity urges

As lockdown is eased investment is needed to help people to stay off the streets in longer-term housing and the council is bidding for £6.4m to create close to 60 units of one bedroom accommodation.

Council leader Carl Smith said: “We need to build on the work we have done over the last few months.

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“We have helped these people and it is important we continue to help them.

“Some of them have never had any help before.

“One of the really positive stories from Covid is how these people have been helped and I am really proud of the work we have done.

“As a council we really do want to see this through.”

Mr Smith added that the reasons for homelessness were complex and varied from person to person with some having much higher needs than others.

Addiction, family break-up, and mental health problems were all factors that could be mitigated against by early intervention, but it meant a multi-agency response which could offer wrap-around care to individuals addressing all their needs was the only answer.

The council had made great strides producing a homelessness strategy and employing a new rough sleeper co-ordinator on April 1 but the virus created the spur to take swift action and meant everyone was willing to co-operate.

Ms Oxtoby added: “It could not have happened without Covid-19.

“There would not have been the impetus or the willingness to co-operate from the homeless people.

“Having achieved what we have the challenge is not to go backwards.

“We have shown what can be done.”

Housing the homeless has cost around £150,000 so far, paid for by central Government.

The council is also bidding for funds from the Next Steps programme designed to carry on all the work that has been done so far and make it sustainable.

Under that package it hopes to draw down around £400,000 with other partners to help end rough sleeping and not send people back to the streets.

Ms Oxtoby added that even people who might have been considered “beyond help” had found their way back to a more stable life having been rehoused, proving any doubters wrong and the worth of the programme.


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