On March 23rd 2020 the seemingly impossible happened. In a matter of days almost 15,000 people were found emergency accommodation, 100 of those were in Norwich. Due to Covid 19, night shelters and shared sleeping spaces were no longer acceptable.
When I listen to my CEO colleagues up and down the country there is a total and complete commitment not to go back to ‘business as usual’ in the homeless sector. Night shelters and shared sleeping spaces belong, at best, in the twentieth century.
If there has been one good thing which has come out of the Covid crisis this is it.
But what of Norwich? St Martins worked alongside the City Council to ‘get everybody in’, in total 100 people received emergency accommodation, mainly in two hotels in the city. Daily meetings were held to focus on each person and work with them to develop a plan for a future which included secure and permanent accommodation. For some, this was the first meaningful engagement they had embraced for many years. We were (and still are) dealing with a worldwide crisis, the like of which most of us had never seen before; understandably people were – and continue to be – frightened.
Supporting 100 people into accommodation doesn’t mean we can all sit back and give ourselves a pat on the back. When we move past the initial question of why we had 100 people needing this support in the first instance we then need to retain a focus on supporting people to remain in secure and permanent accommodation.
At St Martins we know people need more than accommodation. If someone has been sleeping on the streets this is the strongest possible indicator that something is seriously wrong for that person. Just providing a roof over their head isn’t going to be the magic silver bullet and result in them living the life they want to live. They need ongoing and specialist support. At St Martins we provide that specialist support so, job not done, job ongoing.
Then we need to turn our mind to the dire economic situation which is a result of the Covid crisis. Every day we hear in the news about more redundancies and a growing recession. When the eviction ban is lifted later this month we have the perfect storm, job losses resulting in people not being able to pay their bills and a green light to commence eviction processes. There can be little doubt that there will be more people ending up on our streets. The specialist support and accommodation St Martins provides is needed now more than ever. Unfortunately all our beds are full and even we do not have the capacity to deal with the tsunami on the horizon.
Our Trustees are committed to developing a new accommodation project but this takes time. In the meantime we continue to work with people on the streets providing as much emergency accommodation as we possibly can. After all, sleeping rough is not a life ambition – ask any child what they would like to be when they grow up and the answer will not be ‘someone who sleeps on the streets of Norwich’.