(13 October 2020) Glass Door Homeless Charity is concerned restrictions placed on homeless shelters will leave many out in the cold. The charity is launching new winter services in line with Covid-19 regulations this winter to shelter and support people facing street homelessness in London, but the charity warns it won’t be enough.

 

New government guidelines, released today, say that rotating night shelters – where a different venue is used each night and people move each day – should not be used this winter due to the increased risk of transmitting Covid-19.

 

However, the new guidelines (called “operating principles”), recognise that risks must be balanced. The principles indicate that night shelters, when modified to minimise risk of infection, can help meet need in local areas.

 

Glass Door, which runs the largest open-access network of homeless shelters in the country, is concerned about what will happen to all those who will be unable to find spaces in shelters this winter.

 

“We are modifying our services in line with the guidance, but the number of people who will be able to find a space will undoubtedly fall far short of demand,” says Glass Door CEO Lucy Abraham.

 

“The combination of fewer shelter spaces at a time when more people are expected to face homelessness this winter is a crisis in the making,” Abraham says. She adds:

 

We will do all we can to keep everyone safe while Covid-19 is still at large. But what will happen to all those who would normally find a space in a shelter run by faith groups or charities such as ours?

 

Up to 170 people found shelter every night last winter with Glass Door. Glass Door’s communal shelters provided safe places to sleep for to a total of 829 individuals over 22 weeks beginning early November.

 

Glass Door anticipated the restrictions in the guidance and has developed plans to offer single rooms in hostels. Glass Door staff will be on-site around the clock in these hostels, meals will be provided, and guests will also have access to advice and support from caseworkers. 

 

“This model will provide a safer and more stable emergency solution for someone who would otherwise be on the street, but it’s also more expensive,” Abraham says. The hostels will provide less than half the available sleeping spaces provided by the night shelters last winter.

 

“It’s a difficult balance to strike,” Abraham adds. “We’ll be following government guidance, but we think more needs to be done to analyse and balance the risk of sleeping inside shelters with sleeping outside in the freezing cold.”

Abraham is concerned that the restrictions on communal shelters also miss the important role they play in providing community.

We know night shelters save lives, but they also provide community and combat loneliness, which our guests repeatedly tell us is an important component of their journey out of homelessness.

Glass Door plans to use its network of volunteers and churches that usually provide shelters to create a dinner-only service. “At least people in need will be able to find a hot meal and a kind word,” Abraham says. “If and when we are able to do so safely, we hope to allow people to stay overnight and find shelter out of the cold.”

 

The charity’s new services will also provide a way that people in need can connect with the charity’s advice and support services. Caseworkers will be on hand to work with people to find routes out of homelessness.

 

The charity has written to Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government to express their concerns with some aspects of the new operating principles.

 

“Faith and community groups like ours are often run independent of government funding, and our first responsibility is to those who have fallen through the safety net. We welcome the benefits of working in cooperation with local councils, and we are in active constructive discussions with all the local authorities in which we work. However, it should ultimately be the charity’s prerogative to offer provision, so long as services are provided in Covid-safe manner and in a way that balances risk and the best interests of the guest,” says Abraham.  

 

“We are also concerned that those who have difficulty proving a local connection and those who have not been able to access support for a variety of reasons --for example, because of their immigration status or because they are not considered high enough priority for social housing-- may not be able to access the support they need from the local councils. These individuals need a centralised place to find support, in a way that recognises them as a human being with inherent dignity,” says Abraham.  

 

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