Off the streets, but homeless problem hasn't gone away
Homeless people are being helped during the Covid-19 crisis. It creates a challenge for those working to improve their lives.
The West Midlands’ homeless population may be out of sight at the moment, but it is definitely not out of mind for the charities that provide them with support.
On the Government’s instruction, local authorities across the region have put rough sleepers in temporary accommodation, usually hotels and guest houses. But the charities that provide support to people without a permanent roof over their heads say that demand has increased significantly since the outbreak of the crisis.
The Good Shepherd Ministry in Wolverhampton, The Ark in Shrewsbury, and Stay in Telford have all seen a sharp increase in their workload since the start of the coronavirus outbreak. While homeless people may not be on the street at the moment, the charities are still providing them with support in their temporary accommodation.
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Tom Hayden, head of operations at Good Shepherd Ministry, says there are approximately 70 people in Wolverhampton living in emergency accommodation at the moment.
He says the city’s emergency night shelter is also regularly full.
Mr Hayden says one of the problems is the impact the virus is having on people staying temporarily with friends.
“If I’m sofa-surfing at your house, and I start coughing, you are going to want me out,” he says. “But with the lockdown restrictions, it is then hard to find somewhere else to stay.”
The real increase in demand, though, has come in the number of people seeking help with food supplies. The charity normally provides hot meals for people without permanent accommodation, but since the lockdown has been providing hot food takeaways and food parcels instead.
Mr Hayden says a record 170 people turned up on one day at the end of last month, and the charity regularly has about 120-130 people collecting food parcels. He says: “We are getting people we have never seen before. More people are also requesting food parcels are delivered because they are in isolation.”
He explains that Enterprise Homes, which manages the Wolverhampton Church Shelter at the Good Shepherd site, is continuing to offer overnight accommodation in keeping with all the relevant advice from Public Health. But he says the shelter has been suffering from a shortage of volunteers.
“There is already a really strong partnership within Wolverhampton of charities and agencies aiming to create sustainable pathways out of homelessness and poverty,” says Mr Hayden.
“Our aim is to utilise these relationships to make sure we are there for people who need our help during this challenging and uncertain time.”
Mr Hayden says the charity is also working with Wolverhampton Council and housing charities to prevent people from returning to the streets when they have to leave the hotels.
“We are already starting to talk about an exit strategy from hotels,” he says, adding that work is already going on to find permanent homes for them. He says that while the Government has placed restrictions on people moving house during the crisis, there is an exemption clause for people in emergency situations.
Mr Hayden adds that the charity continues to help people when they have been found permanent accommodation.
All of this, though costs money, something which has been in short supply since the lockdown. Mr Hayden says the restrictions have had a serious effect on the charity’s ability to raise funds.
“We have lost £10,000 worth of fundraising over the past month,” he says. “Our summer fete as St Michael’s has had to be cancelled.”
To make up for some of the lost funds, Mr Hayden says the charity will be holding a ‘silent auction’ this month, where people can bid for items on the internet.
“We are also looking for businesses and organisations to donate anything we can raffle off,” he says, adding that ex-Wolves stars Karl Henry, Carl Ikeme and Jody Craddock had all made donations. He says people can also support the charity by donating non-perishable items such as tins or pasta to the collection box by the tills in Sainsbury’s at Chapel Ash.
Wendy Faulkner, manager of the Shrewsbury Ark charity, says it has also been extremely busy. All of the town’s homeless are now living in The Prince Rupert Hotel, in an arrangement made with Shropshire Council.
Kay Bennett, of Telford-based homeless charity Stay, says temporary accommodation has had to be found for 150 homeless people since lockdown. Of those, she says 125 have now been found permanent homes, leaving 25 who could potentially be back on the streets if permanent arrangements cannot be made.
The charity also provides face-to-face support and advice for vulnerable people, and Miss Bennett says the restrictions have inevitably impacted on that, adding: “Our outreach workers are still trying to keep on doing that, but it might sometimes have to be done remotely.”
Miss Bennett adds she expects many of these pressures to grow over the coming months, particularly when the government support measures come to an end.
“We are expecting it to have a massive impact moving forward, we expect to see more people struggling when it is all over,” she says.
“For people on furlough, it pays 80 per cent of your wages, but you don’t have 80 per cent of your bills. And then there are the people who are going to be laid off. A lot of people are going to be struggling, and we are going to be very busy.”
Like the other charities, the crisis is likely to have a major impact on Stay’s finances. Miss Bennett says the charity would normally be launching its annual November sleep-out, adding: “Last year that raised £5,000 for us, and it always raises £3,000-£4,000. It would be a huge blow to us if that didn’t go ahead.”