Seize ‘once in a generation’ chance to end rough sleeping, charity urges
PUBLISHED: 06:30 13 May 2020 | UPDATED: 12:58 13 May 2020
The chief executive of a Norwich homelessness charity has urged the government to seize a “once in a generation” opportunity to put an end to rough sleeping.
Dr Jan Sheldon, from St Martins’ Housing Trust, said there was a “golden opportunity” for councils and central government to take decisive action to prevent rough sleepers returning to the streets in the wake of the pandemic.
Dr Sheldon said that, with food, shelter and support in place, rough sleepers were beginning to “look healthier than they have in years” and “showing tiny green shoots of hope for the future”.
But she stressed the situation was “fragile” and highlighted the need for sustained support to prevent progress being undone as lockdown begins to be eased.
Councils across Norfolk and the country scrambled to house their homeless populations over the course of a weekend in March after the virus lockdown set in.
And people are now housed in temporary accommodation, ranging from social housing to hotels and B&Bs, with some families even being sheltered at the former RAF Coltishall site.
Dr Sheldon said: “It is a real opportunity and I think it all depends on how central and local government grab it. We’re continuing to work with the city council to make sure that those in emergency accommodation have plans in place for moving on.”
Older residents are often put in sheltered housing while those with complex needs go to hostels.
But Dr Sheldon said residents were making real progress.
“We started to see people stop worrying about where they’re going to sleep at night or whether they’re going to get attacked or abused, and just relaxing a bit,” she said. “It’s hope for the future.”
But she stressed that residents were aware the current level of support was not guaranteed to continue and added: “I think anybody in this situation will have concerns and they all do.
“We see it as quite fragile as we know local authorities have had a reduction in income.”
Dr Sheldon added: “This is a once in a generation opportunity to end rough sleeping.”
One former rough sleeper, staying at Bishopbridge House hostel, said he felt the support he had been given was a silver lining to the coronavirus crisis.
Edward Fogg, 44, had been sleeping rough in Norwich and Great Yarmouth for the last three to four months. A former Derby lorry driver of 20 years, he said a relationship breakdown had left him with nowhere else to go.
“I’ve been here a couple of weeks now,” he said. “It is boring, there’s not a lot to do, and unless you’re in your room you can’t really be isolated.”
But he added: “Things are moving a little bit more quickly because of this virus.
“They don’t want people out on the streets - there’s not as many people out there as there were.
“One of the guys I was with a few weeks ago was found dead in a doorway a few weeks back.
“We’ve not heard what it was. I don’t think it was coronavirus, he just died in his sleep. It shouldn’t be happening really.”
And Patricia, a senior support worker at Bishopbridge House, in Norwich, said staff were working on a two-week rota and isolating for 14 days when not on shifts.
Patricia, whose last name is not being used, added that the hostel was being kept clean with “strong disinfectant” used on touch points, PPE provided to staff, and facemasks offered to residents, who have their temperatures checked before leaving the site.
She said: “The message is getting through. They might not be as interested in what’s happening abroad but they are interested in what’s happening here and those big death numbers.
“There are no handshakes now. There’s no fist bumping - which is how they always greet each other.
“Most of them know each other from 20 years ago - there’s a community on the street.”
Kevin Maguire, from Norwich City Council, said: “We have a long and proud record of dealing with homelessness and rough sleeping and specialist services, such as Pathways Norwich, offer a pathway from rough sleeping and into secure accommodation.”
Mr Maguire, cabinet member for safe city environment, added: “At the early stages of the virus outbreak we realised provision of temporary accommodation, alone, wouldn’t be satisfactory. The key to ensuring positive, life-changing outcomes for rough sleepers is to ensure an onward route into settled accommodation.
“To date, 23 rough sleepers under the coronavirus provision have been secured more settled accommodation so they will not have to return to the streets once the outbreak is over.”
He said: “I sincerely hope the government will not now callously drop these vulnerable people only to lose the good work and restart the cycle of poverty and destitution.”