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25 August 2020

Glass Door chief executive Lucy Abraham has written an article for housing sector magazine Inside Housing. We cannot abandon the model of communal night shelters this winter without practical alternatives in place, she writes.

The full article is free to access once registered on the Inside Housing website. 

No viable alternative

Lucy wrote to Inside Housing in response to calls by some commentators to end the communal housing model for good. She says:

I also wish we lived in a world where communal shelters didn’t have to exist, and I say that as the chief executive of the largest network of emergency winter night shelters in England. However, we cannot and should not dismiss this format without a viable alternative for the many thousands of people for whom they are a lifeline each year.

"All year round, our shelter hotline rings with desperate callers telling us they have nowhere else to turn. Many have tried the council and have been told they aren’t eligible for support. We sheltered 839 people this past winter, more than ever before".

"A sense of normality"

The article includes feedback from one of the female guests of our night shelters this winter: 

I got the shelter I needed, and a good meal. Just to have that contact with someone who is living a normal life is so important. It has given me a sense of normality and really helped me to cope with my situation.

New waves of homelessness

Lucy points out that night shelters may not be able to run this coming winter because of concerns around the spread of COVID-19, at least not in their current format. She warns:

"Glass Door’s frontline staff are already seeing the impact of people losing their jobs and houses, with an increase in the number of people who have never been homeless before turning to us. The end of government measures – such as the eviction prevention scheme, and the furlough scheme and mortgage holidays – are likely to cause a new wave of homelessness this winter.

Unless critics can point to an alternative for all those who usually turn to shelters like ours, it is likely that large numbers will resort to bedding down on the streets.

A safe and humane option

Lucy continues:

"Sleeping on the street or sleeping in a shelter should never be the only two options. And no one should claim that communal night shelters are a long-term solution to end rough sleeping. But personally, I would feel safer on a church floor at night than on the street. The several hundred guests who choose to stay with us each year clearly agree.

Ideally, homelessness charities would not need to exist because everyone would have a safe place to go. Until that day, we will continue to provide routes off the street for as many people as possible in a manner that is safe and humane.

To support Glass Door and move towards a future where no one has to sleep rough in London, join our community.