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31 March 2020

Over 120 guests of Glass Door shelters are now in private rooms in London hotels. But front-line staff warn that more needs to be done for those still on the streets. 

Community effort

Thanks to close collaboration between homeless charities, local authorities and the government, individuals who would usually sleep in a shared space on sleeping mats in shelters now have a safe space to self-isolate – and even a warm bed to sleep in each night.

Glass Door coronavirus lead and service development manager Megan Preston said:

It’s been a real community effort, with everyone coming together with the same goal of protecting people. I feel really proud to have been a part of this movement.

“It was very early on that we realised people facing homelessness had nowhere to safely self-isolate. We had to turn several guests away who exhibited symptoms and one guest did subsequently test positive for coronavirus. Now we know that Glass Door night shelter guests are in a safe, comfortable environment where they can stay safe from COVID-19.”

Case by case approach 'too slow and inefficient'

While individuals who were staying in Glass Door night shelters are now in hotels, Glass Door front-line staff are increasingly concerned about people who are still sleeping on the street. The Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government had pledged to house every person who is homeless by last weekend. However, this has not yet happened and it is still unclear how local councils will be able to enact this in practice.

“There are still large numbers of homeless people on the street and fewer and fewer services that are open to support them”, said Glass Door senior caseworker Neil Parkinson.

Says Neil:

People are confused, hungry and don’t know where to turn. We have had people gathering outside our office asking for help, and some of them are angry about the lack of information and options for how they can stay safe.

“We need a centralised government approach so all rough sleepers can get off the street and into safety. Before Greater London Authority stepped in to arrange hotel rooms, we were already working with local councils to try to find options for individuals who needed to self-isolate, but our progress was mixed at best. A case-by-case approach that relies on councils to determine who they can and can't help is too slow and inefficient in a public health crisis like this one."

Further challenges

“An additional issue is that some individuals may be deemed too risky to be housed in hotels", added senior caseworker Neil Parkinson.

"For example, one of our guests was turned away because he has mental health problems and alcohol dependency, so there were concerns that his well-being would not be supported in hotel isolation. We understand the need to manage risks but we are concerned that the most vulnerable people in society will be left behind on the streets. And we also need to take into consideration those whose mental health concerns make a stay in a confined space challenging.

“And then there are the 'hidden homeless.' Many purposefully avoid being counted as homeless while others fall below the radar because they stay hidden from view. We need to find ways to support these people who are often difficult to find.

Others may try to avoid detection because of their immigration status. No immigration status or legal barrier should prevent a person from accessing self-isolation in this public health crisis.

"So much more than a bridge"

With up to 40% of our front-line staff needing to self-isolate right now, a lot of the back-office staff stepped in last week to help our shelter guests move into the hotels.

Glass Door senior manager Melissa Kerschen said:

“Helping out on the day we moved people into hotels was a wonderful reminder of why we do what we do. As guests departed in cabs for the hotels, there was lots of well-wishes and reassurances that we would all stay connected by phone. So many people had warm words of thanks. I said to one woman that I was glad we could act as a bridge off the street. She looked me in the eye and said: ‘It has been so much more than a bridge.’ Several people mentioned they were looking forward to sleeping in a bed, something that hadn’t happened in months. Many said they were most looking forward to having access to a private shower.

“Moving people from shelters into hotels is an amazing first step. But it’s not job done. If we can all now meet the huge challenge of finding rooms for those still sleeping on the streets, then we will have accomplished something incredible.

We will not have solved homeless in the long-term, but we will have moved everyone off the streets for at least the next twelve weeks. If we can do this, we can show ourselves that homelessness is not inevitable. Our society has the will and the ability to end rough sleeping.

"It’s not just a cliché: our fates are all interlinked, and this crisis is showing us that.”

Several media outlets, including the Independent and the Guardian, featured Glass Door’s concerns about people left on the street.

To support someone experiencing homelessness right now:

Please support Glass Door's COVID-19 Emergency Appeal