Charity's homelessness support at Hampstead hotel 'should be the new normal'
- Credit: Polly Hancock
The charity, which has spent 2020 working with Camden Council to provide "wraparound care" to former rough sleepers at the Britannia Hotel in Belsize, has called on the government to ensure that the care shown to homeless people during the pandemic becomes "the new normal".
Eloise Moller, a sports and health manager at Camden-based charity Single Homeless Project (SHP), said the national "Everyone In" project had been vital, and had "it stopped people literally dying in the streets", but that it would be a travesty to see the strides made in tackling homelessness disappear after the pandemic.
At the pandemic's outset, the borough's homeless population was assessed and as many at-risk people as possible - who had either been living on the streets or in hostel accommodation which was not Covid-safe - were given rooms at hotels.
At the Britannia, SHP, the town hall and local NHS bodies realised that the people living there would need all kinds of support. A multi-disciplinary team was put in place which made sure nurses, addiction workers, mental health professionals and even dentists were available to help previously homeless people put themselves in the best possible situation to move on to permanent accommodation.
Eloise told the Ham&High: "Many of these people probably would have caught Covid, and they would have really struggled. It wasn't just about getting them off the streets, but about putting them in safe places. It was only meant to run for three months, but as it looked as though Covid wasn't going to go away things were extended. It was set up to give people a place where they could shield.
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"Everyone had an en-suite and three meals a day brought to their room. It became clear very early on that everyone coming in was very vulnerable and often had mental health needs. The idea was to make it so everyone could have access to the healthcare necessary."
Eloise said that this collaborative approach should be an example going forward.
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"This shows how homelessness work should go. Most people have had positive outcomes. The idea now is to try to get funding to roll out a similar model but instead of being at a hotel, it being at the hostels. Really, this should be the new normal," she said.
"It's a shame it took a pandemic to make what happened happen. This learning needs to be taken forward."
Eloise emphasised that the hardest period is not yet over, with Covid-19 still set to be a serious issue throughout a cold winter.
"We are still going to be seeing the impact," she said. "Covid is here for the winter, and many of the things that usually come on board during the winter can't happen this year."
One of the people to benefit at the Britannia was former social services worker Jay who spent six weeks on the streets early in the pandemic. He had lost his job after mental health issues worsened.
Jay, who asked to be referred to by first name only, said: "I was lucky, I wasn't on the streets that long, but that was only because of Covid. For me, it was a blessing. I'm a single man with no kids. I would still be on the streets."
He's now living in semi-independent accommodation, and explained that being able to access treatment for both his mental and physical health at the Britannia had been vital.
"I was there about six months, I got appointments with a psychologist and that really helped my mental health."
Medical staff were able to diagnose a serious blood clot in Jay's arm. He said access to the basics really helped, too though.
"For me the things about being on the streets that impacted most were about dignity - being able to go to the toilet and having a shower."
Eloise added: "I think what's going to be so hard is to have been able to offer these services then have had to take them away. People aren't going to understand."
Camden's housing lead, Cllr Meric Apak, also spoke of the "life-changing impact" of work at the Britannia.
He said: "Since the start of the pandemic, we have supported over 300 rough sleepers into accommodation.
“Camden will continue to provide health, care and housing support services to improve the lives of homeless people and will continue to deliver the wrap around support services that have worked so well in our emergency accommodation, from our hostels in 2021."
He called on the government to provide funding to enable this.
SHP is now running a Christmas campaign to help add to the 300 people it's helped into accommodation during the pandemic. It's hoping to help 100 more people find safe homes before Christmas. To help, visit shp.org.uk