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14 May 2020

Despite the shelter season being cut short by two weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic, more people turned to Glass Door and stayed in the shelters this winter than ever before.   

Six new partners joined the shelter network across the four boroughs where we operate, allowing the charity to incorporate a new shelter circuit. Between early November 2019 and late March 2020, 829 different guests found shelter within 34 venues, with five venues hosting shelters on any given night of the week.

Quick stats

  • Demand: 1,930 individuals turned to us looking for shelter (1,852 in 2018-2019)
  • 34 churches and community centres  across four boroughs  joined the shelter network (29 in 2018-2019)
  • 829 individuals joined shelters for an average of 25 nights (700 / 28 nights in 2018-2019)
  • 18% (150) were women (18% / 125 in 2018-2019)
  • An average of 147 individuals stayed in the shelter network each night (125 in 2018-2019) 
  • 20,527 spaces for sleeping provided over the winter (up from 19,281 in 2018-2019)
  • Age range of guests: 18-80. Average age: 39
  • 1,666 volunteers registered with Glass Door this past year
  • Volunteers cooked and served over 30,775 dinners (29,745 in 2018-2019)

Diversity of stories

Our guests represent a diversity of backgrounds similar to the mix represented in London at large. This past winter, as usual, the largest nationality represented was British, with 254 British guests staying with us at some point. The second-largest subset of guests hailed from Poland (83). The number of Eritreans (64) looking for shelter from Glass Door rose for the second year, now bypassing the number of guests from Romania (51).  

Says Chief Operating Officer Lucy Abraham:

When the numbers reported become so large, their impact can almost become diluted. We must guard against that. I am conscious that behind every number there are human stories.

At least seven guests who stayed with us this past winter were pregnant. Many others faced serious health conditions, including cancer, arthritis, sickle cell anaemia, respiratory conditions, chronic pain, blindness and cerebral palsy. One was recovering from surgery. All stayed in the Glass Door shelters while working with caseworkers to find more suitable long-term solutions. 

Guest feedback 

The night shelters may only be able to offer a space on the floor of a church hall, but our guests told us what a difference it makes in our annual anonymous feedback survey. 

After staying with Glass Door, 76% said that they feel more optimistic about the future. Guests also indicated they felt more confident, connected, rested and supported than when they arrived, with an improvement in both their mental and physical health.  

One male guest in his fifties wrote:

Your service saved me from sleeping rough in an emergency situation. Thank you.

Another male guest who is in his twenties wrote:

I'm not homeless anymore, and I feel much more relaxed and safe. Thank you so much for making me come out of being homeless.

Challenges ahead

The security and relative stability of the shelters allowed guests to work with caseworkers to find routes out of homelessness, while ongoing work continues with many. Ninety-nine different guests found housing, 21 found employment and six were supported to return to their home country. All of the 132 guests staying in our shelters when the country went into lock-down moved into hotels in the week of 23 March. 

Says senior caseworker Neil Parkinson:

While we celebrate these successes, there is much work still to be done.

In the wake of the pandemic, many government and statutory services are not functioning at full capacity, leaving some unable to get the help they needed. People who were already struggling are finding themselves in desperate circumstances. At Glass Door, we will continue to support our guests now in hotels and in accommodation as well as all who turn to us for the first time.

A former shelter guest who was accommodated and being supported by social services contacted us hungry and in pain. Routine welfare checks had not been carried out due to pressure on services from COVID-19, and he had run out of his pain medication. His health and mobility had deteriorated to such an extent that he could not get dressed or answer the door. We advocated on his behalf, and within 24 hours we secured a care package that included daily hot meals and carers. 

Another person who recently turned to us for support is a survivor of modern slavery and domestic violence. She had to flee her accommodation but found there no refuge spaces available for her to safely self-isolate. With our support, her local authority placed her in temporary accommodation.

photo: caseworker Alex discusses options for support

For the guests placed in hotels, we are creating individualised move-on plans. For some, this means support to access benefits. But many do not have access to state support. Staff members are exploring all available options, says chief operating officer Lucy Abraham:  

We are doing all we can to find permanent routes out of homelessness for all those we support.

Fundraising manager Patrick Luong finds reasons to remain hopeful:

We are incredibly touched by the generosity of so many in our community. Individuals, foundations and companies have stepped forward to offer support, and our COVID-19 appeal has attracted contributions large and small. It all helps.

If you would like to work towards a future where no one has to sleep rough in London, join the Glass Door community.