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photo: Glass Door guest in individual room in new accommodation project.

17 August 2021

Glass Door completely changed its model this past winter to give people affected by homelessness access to individual rooms during the pandemic. In partnership with LHA London, the charity launched the new service in two hostel-style buildings in Central London. Matthew Falk reviews the highlights, the challenges, and the lessons learned. 

By Matthew Falk, head of operations

Thanks to the immense effort of staff, volunteers, supporters and partners, we provided individual rooms, three meals a day and on-site casework support between November 2020-June 2021 for 199 people who may have otherwise been sleeping on the streets.

We also successfully safeguarded guests from catching the virus, with only three individuals testing positive for COVID during the entire period. The infection was successfully isolated, and the chain of transmission broken, with all guests affected achieving full recoveries.

The stats:

187 out of 199 guests accessed casework and further support while staying in the hostel
37% of guests had no recourse to public funds, meaning that they wouldn’t have had anywhere else to turn had we not opened our doors
85 moved into further housing
32 accessed benefits
18 gained employment
121 accessed essential healthcare, with at least 61 people receiving the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Beyond the numbers

If we look beyond the numbers to the stories that have emerged from staff who were on the ground, running the hostels and working with guests, we get an even clearer picture of the human impact of the project.

Our staff had dozens of conversations with guests at their lowest point. Some had fled domestic abuse or modern slavery, others were dealing with substance misuse or contemplating suicide. Staff were always there to make sure guests felt safe and supported. They protected one guest who received an unwelcomed visit from their abuser and swiftly found alternative safe accommodation for a guest who was assaulted and extorted by a street gang.

Without being hyperbolic, I truly believe that these actions saved lives.

This assessment is echoed in feedback from guests of the hostel, who reported in an anonymous survey that they felt more optimistic, confident, supported, rested, stable and safe during their stay.

One male guest in his forties said:

I just want to say thank you all for doing this every day and taking my situation seriously. You’ve helped give me a more positive outlook for the future and it keeps me going.

Another reason I think the project was such a positive experience was due to colleagues who made sure we built in a “gender-informed approach” from the beginning. This meant that there were provisions in place to ensure women’s safety from the start. Women stayed on their own floor and had access to female caseworkers, for example. And when any issues arose, they were addressed swiftly and effectively.

Lessons learnt and future plans

In light of the positive outcomes witnessed, we will continue to provide single-room accommodation from November to May in Westminster, alongside our traditional night shelters, to provide a path out of homelessness for guests who are especially vulnerable, or who need more stability as they start a new job, for example.

While the new project was a success overall, any new service will experience some teething problems. Some guests had higher support needs than we had anticipated, specifically around more serious levels of substance and alcohol misuse and acute mental health issues.

Staff didn’t feel fully equipped to handle these issues, and we found ourselves adding on training half-way through the winter. This year, we are planning to build in mandatory Mental Health training and suicide prevention for all hostel staff, as well as training on working with individuals who struggle with alcohol misuse.

Want to find out more about the outcomes of our accommodation and our 2021 shelter plans?