Over the past decade, rates of homelessness have been rising across the country. Official figures in 2018 estimated there were 4,677 people sleeping rough on a single night in England. A rise of 165% from 2010. In the BCP area, the homelessness charity Shelter estimates there are nearly 900 people regularly sleeping on the streets. The coronavirus pandemic has presented additional challenges. Not only for rough sleepers, but for the organisations that support them and help them get off the streets…
As night-time temperatures fell below zero last week, BCP Council activated their Severe Weather Emergency Protocols. Working with homelessness charity St. Mungo’s outreach team, they vowed to make emergency overnight accommodation available for rough sleepers across the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole area.
In addition to these “life-saving” measures, the council secured an extra £1 million in funding to support those at risk of being on the streets during the COVID-19 pandemic. Councillor Robert Lawton hailed this extra funding as “essential” to protecting the most vulnerable during the pandemic. St. Mungo’s also welcomed the funding. They, alongside similar organisations such as YMCA Bournemouth, have played a key role in supporting people sleeping rough during the ongoing public health emergency.
THE IMPACT OF THE PANDEMIC ON ROUGH SLEEPERS
For institutions that provide support for the homeless in the tough winter months, COVID-19 has made life much more difficult. In previous years, St. Stephen’s Church in Bournemouth and the United Reform Church in Poole have both offered support and shelter for rough sleepers. This year, however, the risk of Coronavirus spreading in communal shelters has made them unable to offer the same level of assistance.
Organisations that have been able to provide support, meanwhile, are having to deal with new challenges posed by Coronavirus.
“The pandemic has had a wide effect on peoples mental and physical health”, explained Gareth Sherwood, the CEO of YMCA Bournemouth. “Many people have struggled significantly during the pandemic, experiencing more personal crisis, loss and breakdown. We have seen this impact first-hand with those we help; their lives are being made more complex with the restrictions necessary to control the disease.’
YMCA Bournemouth, which provides short-term supported housing for men and women aged 18-65, has an excellent track record in getting people off the streets. In 2019, they helped almost 200 people transition from living on the streets to having a home and gaining independence. Over the past year, however, they have seen growing demand for their services. A situation that has been common across the country. Rough sleeping and homelessness have surged over the course of the pandemic. Areas such as London, for example, saw a 21% increase in rough sleeping alone during 2020.
“Demand has increased two or threefold across all areas,” said Sherwood. “The YMCA has been critical in providing for thousands of people in need from all sorts of areas and circumstances during the pandemic. We are seeing more need for our support in the young people, children’s work, family work and work with the homeless.”
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
Throughout all the trials of the past year, the YMCA staff’s tireless efforts have been an immense source of pride for Sherwood.
“It has been harder than ever to provide the intensive support in a safe and secure way,” he said. “My staff have all gone above and beyond the call of duty to continue uninterrupted with their incredible and vital support work. I am especially proud of them!”
Amidst the difficulties faced by many rough sleepers and the organisations dedicated to supporting them, the success of recent strategies in combating homelessness provides a sense of hope for the future.
The government’s Everyone In program, introduced in the first lockdown, provided emergency shelter for rough sleepers. It managed to house about 5,400 people. The scheme ended in May 2020, and was widely praised. So much so that homelessness charities Crisis and Shelter have called for it to be reintroduced.
BCP Council’s Housing First scheme, meanwhile, is another strategy that received widespread praise. Established in 2017, it focuses on individuals with a history of entrenched rough sleeping. Offering personalised support centred around providing stable, self-contained housing. The approach has led to noticeable improvements in heath and well-being. Not to mention a level of progress among participants that one St Mungo’s Outreach Co-ordinator described as “inspirational.”
CONTINUED SUPPORT AND COLLABORATION IS CRUCIAL
There are some immense challenges ahead. However, Gareth Sherwood believes that the proposed strategies from local authorities, in collaboration with organisations such as the YMCA, can make a real difference.
“The BCP’s current strategy outlines the work we believe needs to be done to both manage and prevent homelessness. We, along with many partners, have been engaged in putting this strategy together for almost two years.’
Above all, he stressed that public support will be crucial to achieving the council’s goal of “ending homelessness in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole”.
“It is our hope that through sustained, determined and compassionate effort, we will see lives turned around. The more support we have, the more we can do.”
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