City Council staff, partner agencies and the voluntary sector have been praised for “moving heaven and earth” to ensure rough sleepers are accommodated during the Covid-19 lockdown.
The Government issued guidance to councils in March to make arrangements for rough sleepers – extremely vulnerable to Covid-19 due to often having underlying health issues – to safely self-isolate.
The City Council’s Rough Sleeping Co-ordinator, Public Health England, Framework and Emmanuel House leapt into action and managed to accommodate 60 people in city hotels within a matter of days – rising eventually to 68. This meant that everyone sleeping rough in Nottingham at the time was provided with accommodation. Support from other agencies meant that everyone at the hotels had three meals a day delivered to their door.
Partnerships with Nottingham University Hospitals and Nottingham CityCare meant that they also had access to doctors via FaceTime. If the GP had concerns, then a nurse was able to visit that day and give a physical check-up. Further to this, Nottingham Recovery Network provided substance misuse support and access to prescriptions.
City Council Rough Sleeping Initiative Coordinator Kim Pike explained: “We know that many people who have previously been sleeping rough have respiratory problems and other health needs, which immediately puts them into the vulnerable category. This meant that we had very little time to work on gaining isolation units, in order to get people inside quickly.
“The groups have been housed in hotels, which in itself might sound relatively simple but took a huge amount of co-ordination. Hotels are able to provide some food, but the voluntary organisations which previously served food on the streets have been an incredible support. They have joined forces and are delivering meals every single day. Some groups even leave notes of support and kindness in the food bags.
“It has been an enormous challenge, but one that we have risen to successfully, thanks mainly to incredible partnership working and assistance from volunteers.”
As well as the immediate success of the operation, there are some ongoing positives. One man has been sleeping rough for around 15 years, during which time he has never accepted support, even in bitterly cold weather. He is now accommodated and the team are working closely with him to ensure that he never has to return to the streets. Many other people have happier stories to tell too. Some have managed to get clean from drug habits and are looking to the future. Others are being supported to move in to their own tenancies and continue to build on the progress they have already made.
Kim is working with the council’s Housing Aid team, along with Framework and Emmanuel house, to gradually move people from the hotels and into more sustainable accommodation. This is a huge challenge people have already started to move on with success.
Portfolio Holder for Housing, Cllr Linda Woodings, said: “Everyone who is involved in supporting rough sleepers moved heaven and earth to respond to the Government’s directive to get them off the streets and into suitable accommodation. I cannot praise them enough for managing to get everyone who was sleeping rough at the time into hotels, it was an incredible achievement in a short space of time and in exceptionally difficult circumstances. Council staff, along with our partner agencies such as Framework and Emmanuel House deserve huge thanks, recognising as they did that rough sleepers are extremely vulnerable to Covid-19 and taking swift and effective action to prevent its spread and preserve lives.
“Beyond that, the response from the voluntary sector has also been magnificent, with various groups stepping up to provide existing services in new ways, such as delivering food.
“We are now moving into the next phase as hotel accommodation is not an appropriate or affordable way to accommodate rough sleepers on an ongoing basis. It will be funded from money Government has promised to cover the costs, and so anyone now presenting on our streets won’t be offered hotel accommodation.”
Anyone who is at risk of homelessness is advised to contact Housing Aid in the first instance via the online self-referral form to ensure that those who genuinely need a bed get one.