From the bunker – Dispatch 7

Emerging into the light

We are just getting the first threads of the Government’s plans for rough sleepers in a move to make good on the promise of not allowing rough sleepers who have been placed in lockdown accommodation to return to the street.

Robert Jenrick, the Housing Secretary has promised that 3,300 homes will be built for rough sleepers in pandemic emergency accommodation over a 12 month period and that overall 6,000 units will be built in all. This is welcome news and for some, this will bring a massive improvement to their lives.

Of the 8,000+ rough sleepers identified in the capital, as of 14th May around 1,000 had been allocated hotel space. I can vouch for the stories about people making 3 or more applications to be taken into one of these hotel rooms and still not being accepted.

We have a client who suffers from PTSD, has depression and anxiety but is still on the street. Why?

The outreach team have attempted to verify him but have not actually seen him bedded down and therefore as he is clean and his clothes are laundered suspect he is staying with friends. He is not – he does have a friend who does have accommodation – our client is sometimes allowed to shower and his friend has laundered his clothes. He gets scared and therefore will move from place to place or get on a night bus so does not understand the protocol of “verifying”.

He does not communicate well as English is not his first language and he finds it hard to follow instructions sometimes more often than not as he does not quite understand.

We have made a homelessness application to the local authority but as he made an application before and was advised to re-connect to his originating borough which just so happens to be near Manchester, they refused to assist. He was very stressed by his time outside London with no community, no church of his religion’s persuasion at which he could worship and the lack of welcome from the community in that area. Whatever one says, acceptance can be a long and rough road if you are not “one of us”. There may be a route to contest this decision in the light of this pandemic to send someone to the North West of England where the R-Rate is nearly twice as high as it currently is in the capital as we are aware that a law centre is looking into the validity of local connection as a factor in assessing a homelessness application during lockdown

Right now, his situation is that we have made a number of referrals to housing projects for him. Happily one has a vacancy coming up this Wednesday and he is due to be given an assessment this Tuesday.  We are crossing our fingers, toes, and just about everything else that he will be offered this precious placement.

Margaret Shapland

Dispatch 6

Into the abyss

Last week, a leak to the Manchester Evening News suggested the Government will no longer fund the emergency programme to house rough sleepers in hotels resulting in pressure to move rough sleepers out of hotels before long-term secure housing  can be found; prompting a fear of many coming back to the streets – we know from the way in which the management of provision into accommodation has been managed. When clients are referred to Streetlink (the contact point between people sleeping on the street and outreach teams), many when contacted have been told to access local authority provision and essentially make a homelessness application. This may generate temporary accommodation perhaps till the end of lockdown. By and large, many will not reach the threshold where the council will accept a duty to house – they will get assistance perhaps but at this point there is no guarantee of ongoing housing.

We are still not clear as to when our housing providers will start intake of referred clients – we have just sent out an email to see what their intentions are – there are some big questions to be asked. For example, housing providers who have been supporting clients in hosted placements. How might that referral process change whilst currently the groups who can be tested are relatively limited and focussed on essential workers.

Let me tell you the story of one of our clients. He is a chef, work dried up when COVD-19 forced closure of restaurants. He found a room at a cost of £690 per month (not uncommon cost for private rented) and approached us for help. We advised him that this rent was above what the Local Housing Allowance of £512 per month for that postcode and he would have to bear any shortfall through his personal contribution. He was living in hope that lockdown would be lifted he could return to work and his income would allow him to cover that shortfall and contribute or cover all his housing costs. In London research has shown that on average, rents consume 62% of income compared to maybe just 23% in the North of England.

To enable him to get accommodation, we contributed a proportion of the up-front costs from one of our block grants towards his rent in advance. The local authority paid the deposit. We negotiated that he could move in using the funds we had promised as local authorities processing time can take up to 15 days. To assist him with the shortfall, we applied to the local authority for a Discretionary Housing Payment to cover his shortfall for a limited period. He was very short of funds, so we have organised supplies of toiletries, a grant to cover about a month of food supplies, an application for a clothing grant to be presentable for job-seeking and provision of essential move-in goods – support of this kind, I believe, will be required even more as lockdown eases up.

From the Bunker – Dispatch 5

The Calm Before the Storm

There is a strange eeriness of empty streets, closed doors and stillness since lockdown – an increasing sense of calm as people retreat into their homes or those on the street are placed in accommodation (still not  all, I might add) . What will happen in the new “normality” of post-lockdown – what will be the shape of the housing landscape. Last night, we heard the first threads of the Government’s plans for moving away from lockdown but how will that affect those that we work with. Figures from a Shelter poll estimate that 1 in 5 private renters – 1.7 million fear they are likely to lose their jobs in the next three months due to the virus – with loss of income, homelessness is likely to follow.

Many of those we work with are at the lower end of the pay spectrum, usually having a cyclical experience of being in work, then homelessness, then being in work again – hard enough in pre-pandemic times. A Resolution Foundation report identified 6.3 million in the economy in areas ordered to shut down – including hospitality ( an area where a lot of our clients tend to work) retail, arts, travel and leisure that could be at risk.

Our work over the last few weeks has focussed on the need for emergency accommodation in response to the numbers of people who found themselves unexpectedly “on the streets” – with friends being reluctant to continue to allow them to remain in their homes, where lodger type agreements had broken down, where loss of a job meant that people could not afford to rent. One commentator remarked “it should never have taken a pandemic for the government to ensure that everyone has somewhere to live. Nor should it have taken isolating in our homes for us to think about how housing hits the most disadvantaged in our society”

Just last week, we worked with a client who had made a homelessness application – they were vulnerable and a substantial history of rough sleeping. They had already tried to get relief through Streetlink (the alert system for rough sleepers) and the housing officer was insisting on documents being provided in a certain electronic format without appreciating that might be difficult for someone on the street. We got him into temporary accommodation and hopefully will be able to help them to get these documents into a format the authority will accept. Last week, we got a local authority to accept responsibility for a no recourse to public funds couple – the husband has a diagnosis of prostate cancer and where the Home Office is taking a lengthy time to respond to a review.

We await the first pronouncements from the task force headed by Dame Louise Casey on their advice to councils on supporting people sleeping rough into long-term and safe accommodation. One thing is sure, my prognosis is that organisations such as ours will be needed more than ever.

Margaret Shapland  – Senior Advice Worker

From the bunker – Dispatch 4

All in? -Not quite

Last week, I was given a real insight into the work that local authorities and outreach teams are trying to do as Channel 4 and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that in London, many are forced to remain on the street as they wait to be allocated a room.

Many are new rough sleepers. I am going to talk about two. Below is a picture of a sleeping site sent to me by an old client of ours who for years has been working, paying rent and then lost a relationship and due to COVID-19 his job in quick succession – we hadn’t heard from him in over 5 years.

The site is dark, dingy, dirty and dangerous – I had to brighten the picture. We’d pressed the local authority to meet this person’s needs but frustrated by  gatekeeping and only when I was able to find out the identity of the Rough Sleeping Co-ordinator in that borough that things started to move as I could bring direct pressure to bear.

I reminded them of the responsibility as directed by the government and the funds they had been allocated to resolve this problem. But, I too was reminded of the fact that this is a big ask on local authorities and commissioned teams and how clients need to be flexible. The first offer was a hotel room with en-suite and tea and coffee facilities. The client stayed 1 night and then refused to remain there as it had no kitchen and laundry. No doubt that is a difficulty but not insurmountable – perhaps rely on take outs, prepared foods and handwashing your clothing as I reminded the client. However, we persevered and after much to-ing and fro-ing, we found somewhere further out with more amenities.

Due to staff shortages, the council asked me to arrange access for the client which I did but not before the accommodation agency had to check as there had been instances of double booking. I breathed a sigh of relief when I could get that booking confirmed.

I have another client. They are still “not in” as the outreach team can’t validate that they are rough sleeping. This person is not easy as they keep moving around from site to site. They have been helped by a friend to have showers and wash clothing so they travel to another borough to get that done but can’t stay there. Outreach teams would see them for 30 minutes and then they disappeared . I have no doubts they are rough sleeping – I am going to make another referral. They tell me that we are the only ones who try to help and I don’t want that person to become collateral damage during this time – the longer they are out, the more they are at risk, the more they are a risk.

Margaret Shapland

From the bunker – Dispatch 3

The plight of the mandatory wanderer

Quite often we meet clients who have come to the UK as a child living with parents or near relatives. Due to changes in immigration regulations, they find as an adult they unknowingly have no legal right to be in the UK. They may go through a period of destitution. If lucky, they will be granted leave to remain, but for some, the Home Office applies a condition of No Recourse to Public Funds – no rights to benefits, homelessness assistance etc

One such person is Brodie. Born in the UK, he went back to his home country until at 10, he returned to live with his aunt. At 17, the relationship soured and he left. Looking for work, he found he was illegal – sought to regularise status and was given leave with a No Recourse condition.

At 19, he had an accident affecting one of his eyes; after numerous medical interventions, he lost the sight in that eye. He worked in the removals business as a self-employed person; he found that he could not earn enough or keep up the continuity of work to afford a stable place to live – in dark moments, he felt his disability was robbing him of work, counting against him. So, like so many he came to rely upon the “kindness of strangers” – sofa-surfing, moving from place to place – work became harder to get, he fell into the grip of depression and continual anxiety. And then – COVID-19 swept into the UK.

People who had given shelter became afraid and re-trenched, excluding anyone who was not family. When he first approached us he was sleeping in the back of a friend’s car feeling suicidal. Under any circumstances, this is not life as it should be. Anyone outside is a potential risk. We lobbied the outreach team to look for him and the advice given by the team to him was to contact the council. We did so on his behalf and he has now been placed in a hotel for the duration of this lockdown. However, he will still be facing an uncertain life once this is over.

We have consulted with an immigration solicitor. They believe that in Brodie’s circumstances this condition of no recourse should be lifted – they have taken on the case. Brodie wants to work – he is a proud person and wants to rely upon himself but he needs a little help. We have written a letter in support to go with his application to the Home Office. We’ll continue to do all we can to support him going forward.

Margaret Shapland – Advice & Welfare: 27/04/20

Housing & Welfare FAQ’s

What can I do if I am homeless?

The housing minister has told local councils that they need to provide accommodation for anyone who is rough sleeping. If you are street homeless you should contact your local authority by phone. For some councils, you will still be able to go in person – if you can still do this then you should. It will not matter if you have asked for help before and been turned away, as there are now special measures in place to stop the virus from spreading. If you have seen an advice worker at The Manna Centre before and are struggling with homelessness, you can contact us via phone and email and we will help you to contact the council, and support you to get help from them.

I am in accommodation but I’m worried about losing it

There is a ban on evictions in place while the coronavirus crisis is happening, and landlords cannot start eviction proceedings for the next 3 months (starting from 27th March 2020), even if they have already served you notice.

You will also not be evicted during this 3 month period if you are an asylum seeker or a refugee and your asylum support accommodation was due to be stopped by the home office.

If you are in accommodation and your landlord is asking you to leave, or you do not think the property is safe to stay in, contact Shelter on 0344 515 0314 (London) or 0808 800 4444 (national)

If you are in Southwark you can call Southwark Shelter on 0344 515 1815, or Cambridge House Law Centre on 0207 358 7025.

What about my benefits?

You will not be expected to attend the job centre for the next three months (starting from the 19th March).

If you are on a sickness or disability benefits you will not be expected to put in fit notes (AKA sick notes) for the time being.

From the 30 March 2020 you will not be expected to look for work or take up work for 3 months.

However, your work coach may still ask you to do some work preparation tasks such as talking with you over the phone or keeping your CV up to date, and you can still be sanctioned for not doing these, so continue to check your journal and keep in touch with your work coach.

If you are having problems with your universal credit, or are struggling to make a new claim, contact your local Citizens Advice.

If you are in Southwark, you can call Citizens Advice Southwark on 0344 499 4134 or if you specifically want help to claim Universal Credit you can call 0800 144 8444.

What services are still open?

[please note this information is current as of 29/03/2020 but circumstances are currently very unpredictable. Please check with individual services on the day via their websites or phones]

Food/practical help

Borough Free Fridge @ St George The Martyr Church on borough high st, open Tuesday and Thursday 12-3. Contact number: 020 7357 7331

Breakfast club at Dorcas ministry @ 685-689 Old Kent Road SE15 1JS, Saturday 9-11am (take away only) Contact number: 020 7639 9852

Ace of Clubs, take away lunch 12pm-1.30pm, Monday – Friday @ St Alphonsus Road, SW4 7AS. Contact number: 020 7720 2811 or 020 7720 0178

Webber St for take away breakfast between 9.15am and 9.45, Monday – Thursday @ 6-8 Webber St, SE1 8QA. Contact number: 020 7928 1677.

Whitechapel Mission for takeaway breakfast and essentials from 6am @ 212 Whitechapel Road, E1 1BJ. https://whitechapel.org.uk/

London Bridge mutual aid network for people locally who are self isolating and need help: https://www.londonbridgecommunity.com/

Advice

Crisis are still open for phone appointments for existing members, and have a limited walk in service. You can still pick up your post.

Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers can be contacted by phone on 0207 732 0505

Migrant Legal Action have a helpline for immigration advice, open 2pm-4pm Monday to Friday: 0203 150 1470

Refuge Domestic Violence Helpline: call 0808 2000 247 if you are experiencing domestic abuse, for example if your partner, family member or carer makes you feel afraid or ashamed and you need to get out of an unsafe situation. The helpline is open 24/7

Step Change: A service that can help you deal with debt. Call 0800 138 1111

The Samaritans: Someone to talk to if you are feeling suicidal or struggling to cope. Call 116 123

Coronavirus FAQ’s

What do I need to do now?

The government has said that everyone needs to stay inside and only leave the house for one of the following reasons:

1. To shop for basic necessities like food and medical supplies for people in your own household or for someone vulnerable; this includes shopping for pet food. You are also able to shop for supplies needed to keep your home maintained (where absolutely essential), or to obtain money.

2. To take exercise either alone or with other members of their household. This does not include travelling in a motor vehicle, or taking public transport, to a location away from your home. Exercise is running, walking or cycling. Working on your allotment plot is also included as exercise.

3. To seek medical assistance.

4. To provide care or support to someone vulnerable, or provide emergency assistance.

5. To donate blood.

6. To travel for the purposes of work only where it is not possible to work or provide services from home, including voluntary or charitable roles.

7. To attend a funeral, but only when they are a member of your household or a close family member. If the deceased doesn’t have any family attending, you are able to attend as a friend.

8. To fulfill legal obligations, like attending court hearings or to take part in legal proceedings.

9. To access critical public services. You can visit childcare or educational facilities where they are still available or social services. You are able to access services provided by the Department of Work and Pensions, or services for victims (of crime, for example).

10. To co-parent. Parents who are separated can continue their existing parenting arrangements.

11. To go to a place of worship, but only if you are a minister of religion or worship leader.

12. To move house, but only where this is absolutely necessary.

13. To avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm.

You cannot meet up with people who do not live with you, or go to visit other peoples houses.

You should also wash your hands as frequently as you can, especially after going out and coming back in. You should catch any sneezes in a tissue.

You should stay at least two meters away from other people when you are out and about.

Why?

Coronavirus can be fatal, and is very infectious. It can be spread easily through the air and through different people touching the same surfaces. A person can carry the virus and not have symptoms, which means lots of people can have it and not know. The government is trying to reduce the number of people who are getting sick at one time to reduce the pressure on hospitals.

What happens if I don’t?

The police can issue a fine (fixed penalty notice) of £60, which will be lowered to £30 if paid within 14 days. They can issue a fine of £120 if you are caught a second time, doubling on each further repeat offence. If you cannot or do not pay your fine, you can be taken to court.

What if I’m homeless?

Homeless people are exempt from government restrictions on movement during the lockdown, so you shouldn’t receive a fine if you are homeless and are found outside without one of the above reasons. However, if you are homeless, you are at greater risk of catching the virus and should contact your local council by phone for help, or contact Streetlink and they will let local outreach workers know where you are.

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