On Wednesday 10 February Swindon old Town Rotary invited Rosemary Curtis Chair of Trustees at Big Breakfast Plus how they were working with the Homeless in the Covid Lockdown. Here are her thoughts.
What has changed?
We had to suspend our service on 16th March on the advice of Public Health England/SBC under the category of a non-essential social gathering.
Our ability to contribute directly to continuing support to the sector has been severely restricted due to the demographics of our staff and volunteers (including key trustees).
Two of our three part-time cooks had already declared their intention to self-isolate on grounds of age. So we furloughed all staff members, including our Project Co-ordinator. Due to the restrictive nature of the scheme (i.e. all or nothing) and inability to offer appropriate alternative workspace/safe working conditions we could not manage the service.
Mental health challenges
Taking into account our charitable *objects and powers (see below) we have re-directed food donations to other partners/agencies/voluntary organisations. These include Booth House, Swindon Night Shelter, Great Western Hotel, and the Food Collective, We also responded to direct requests for help.
We launched an appeal to help us buy Greggs vouchers from 1st September. These were given to our partner organisations, community groups, and our Project Co-ordinator to give to known rough sleepers.
We are confident that most of our Rough Sleepers are being supported. However, we are still very concerned about those at risk of homelessness as a result of the current pandemic with more jobs being redundant when the current furloughing support ends. Although Swindon appears to be relying on this less than the norm nationally. There are also likely to be potential evictions and of course concerns about Domestic Violence during lockdown
We have not sought funding while our service has been suspended. So we were delighted by the sustained nature of our individual support which has increased during the lockdown.
We have received an unsolicited donation of £12,000 from Honda UK as one of three charities supporting the alleviation of food poverty in Swindon.
As part of working with Swindon’s Homeless, we have formed a working group to co-ordinate support. Its main purpose is to alleviate food poverty in Swindon The groups include:
o Food Collective
o Bags of Hope
o Swindon Night Shelter
o Swindon Scrapstore
o Harbour Project
o Many other community projects
What impact has this had on your clients?
We know that rough sleepers have been really well supported under the ‘Everyone In’ initiative. And we are especially pleased that this has included those with NRPF.
We are concerned about the longer-term effects on this extremely vulnerable group? Will they respond to the mixed messages from the Government? For example, sign up with a GP for vaccination without sanction vs the ongoing ‘hostile environment’ for immigrants?
Then there is the potential ‘institutionalised racism’ in current housing policy See the recent paper to SBC AH,ASC & H O&S Committee meeting.
To balance that there is the positive impact of genuine multi-agency working.
Alongside that the ongoing challenge of inadequate funding for/availability of appropriate and timely support regarding addiction/mental health
However, we are particularly concerned about those people who had difficulty in adjusting to the constraints of accommodation and who have returned to the streets. There are those who were or are vulnerably housed. Then there are those finding it difficult to adequately feed themselves, through financial constraints or lack of adequate cooking facilities.
What will be different in future for service delivery
Social distancing will be a key consideration in the future – not only in terms of our guests made up of Swindon’s homeless but in relation to kitchen facilities and the safety/security of our volunteers and staff.
What would you like to do differently
Well, we would have organised access to and for communications with our volunteers until August. Unfortunately, their files were locked in The Haven.
We will need support from other agencies. We need to do the work in partnership. This will improve outcomes for those at risk of rough sleeping or rough sleeping.
It is a unique opportunity to design a Swindon-wide homelessness service from scratch and ‘bottom-up’ that:
• takes advantage of a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ funding opportunity from central government, while recognising the real pressures on Swindon Borough Council and of shrinking fundraising.
• is multi-agency and not housing-led
• works in genuine collaboration and with the mutual support of both statutory bodies and the voluntary and community sector
• identifies the gaps and avoids duplication of service delivery
• works with local community groups and helps them to understand how they can help in a constructive manner, utilising their specific knowledge and skills, especially their rapport with our users and where we all acknowledge that none of us have a right to exist or to go on doing what we’ve always done.
Fundamentally, we all need to understand the requirements of our client group(s). Big Breakfast Plus (and HOSTS) would really welcome informed peer-led research into what Swindon’s Homeless really want.
It should include:
• rough sleepers
• Housing First clients or those in newly private accommodation
• those in supported accommodation, whether that’s in emergency beds or in move-on supported living
• vulnerably-housed and sofa-surfers
• domestic violence victims and perpetrators
• recent prison releases
• potentially homeless as a result of COVID-19 and/or other economic factors
• ethnic and other minorities
• refugees and asylum seekers
• those with mental and physical health needs
And this is not an exclusive list by any means!
We have advised our landlords, Swindon Night Shelter, and SBC that we will not be returning to the Haven on Queens Drive.
There are a number of challenges regarding the layout of The Haven and there are resource implications (both financially and people) as well as the layout of the building in relation to social distancing (as above)
When working with Swindon’s homeless we need to re-evaluate breakfast service times. We proposing delaying our start time to 8.00 am (so 7.30 am for staff and volunteers) to 11.00 am in recognition that 7 am (for 7.30 am) to 8.30 am (9 am) is too early for those still living on the streets, with addictions/responding to the night-time economy)
However, this will have a significant impact on staff and volunteers as well as the availability of volunteers and recruitment. We’re exploring a take-away option for the short/medium term.
SO, depending on the outcome of peer-led/user research
Should we be based more centrally? We have a couple of options post lockdown, or could we operate from a mobile facility?
Rosemary Curtis Chair Big Breakfast Plus
Are you able to help with the Peer-led and user research to help Swindon’s Homeless? If you can help or recommend a team to help the charity to carry out the research please contact in the first instance Rosemary Curtis email@example.com for more information.
Big Breakfast Plus Charity Objects and Powers for working with Swindon’s Homeless
The Charity’s objects (‘the objects’) are the relief of persons in Broadgreen and the surrounding area who are in conditions of need, hardship, and distress and in particular of any persons who are homeless in particular but not exclusively by the provision of
food and clothing.
In furtherance of the above objectives but not further not otherwise, the trustees of the Charity shall have the following powers:-
3.1 To raise adequate funds for the achievement of the above objects and to invite and receive contributions from any person by way of donations or otherwise, provided that the Charity shall not undertake any permanent trading activities in raising funds for its charitable objectives;
3.2 To buy, take on a lease or in exchange, hire or otherwise acquire any property necessary for the achievement of the objects and to maintain and equip it for use;
3.3 Subject to any consents required by law to sell, lease or otherwise dispose of all or any part of the property comprised in the trust fund;
3.4 Subject to any consents required by law, to borrow money and to change the whole or any part of the trust with repayment of the money so borrowed;
3.5 To co-operate with other charities, voluntary bodies, and statutory authorities operating in furtherance of the objects or of similar charitable purposes and to exchange information and advice with them.
Big Breakfast Plus Working with Swindon’s Homeless