A charitable housing association has taken over the main homelessness accommodation in Yeovil and is offering further increased practical support for people who have been sleeping rough and temporarily homeless in the area during the national Covid-19 emergency.
In close collaboration with multi-agency partners, BCHA is supporting additional accommodation and essential support services during lockdown.
Westminster informed local authorities that everyone sleeping rough must be supported into appropriate accommodation, with £3.2m earmarked nationally to help secure accommodation for people sleeping rough to self-isolate.
Following social distancing measures by the Government to reduce the spread of coronavirus, BCHA has had to adapt the way services are delivered although still needing to be in the frontline on site to support customers in shared accommodation homes.
Helping up to 10,000 vulnerable people each year with housing, specialist accommodation, employability skills and health and wellbeing advice, the region-wide charity acted quickly as the Covid-19 crisis unfolded.
BCHA’s Alison Cox, a Senior Practitioner in Yeovil, spoke of the challenges overcome to keep occupiers as safe and well as possible at the town’s Pathways hostel.
The hostel provides 30 units of temporary accommodation for people who are homeless and have support needs.
BCHA was awarded a five-year contract towards the end of 2019 by South Somerset District Council, to ensure continuing services to prevent rough sleeping and support ending homelessness across the area.
BCHA provides emergency accommodation and a rough sleeper outreach service.
Alison said: “To adhere to social distancing, with 30 customers and five staff at Pathways, had proved challenging but the vast majority of people have adapted well and are understanding.
“We have had to change how communal areas are used and be creative in how people access their usual services to maintain social distancing.
“We have arranged for breakfast and evening meals to be brought in by the Local Food Hub and those with medical needs have allocated times during the morning to pick up their prescriptions – there is close liaison by us and other agencies to make this work.
“We have single occupancy in each room, again to reduce any virus risk, and occupiers, some of whom may not have family or friends, can access a 24-hour phone hub to talk things through with a listening ear.”
The reception is marked with 2m lines for social distancing, with handwashing and sanitiser gel for use before entry.
In addition, BCHA is providing similar support services for the 30-bed Terrance Lodge hotel in Yeovil, which has been secured for emergency beds.
Alison said: “In another positive example of partnerships forged by the Covid-19 response, we are working with a range of partners at Terrance Lodge.
“There is a tremendous amount of work going on behind the scenes in keeping 100 people in Yeovil as safe and well as possible during these difficult times nationally.”
Headquartered in Bournemouth and with 320 staff, BCHA has 1,766 accommodation units across the South and South West.
Of these, 740 are supported homes for people who find themselves homeless after facing relationship breakdowns, addictions, unemployment, domestic abuse and deteriorating mental or physical health.
Martin Hancock, Chief Executive of BCHA, said: “Alison and her colleagues at Pathways Yeovil are doing an incredible job, out of the public eye, in providing safe places for people to stay and helping protect the NHS through keeping more people housed and supporting an end to rough sleeping.
“BCHA, in a combined effort with partners on the ground, is having to adapt how services are delivered, creating safer spaces and engaging with our customers in a variety of different ways to give additional support in this lockdown period.
“It’s about protecting customers and our key frontline staff, easing the pressure on the NHS and other essential services during the pandemic.
“Although we still have a way to go before a full return to business as usual, the big challenge now both morally and practically is how do we ensure that people who have had to be sleeping rough without a roof over their head can remain safely off the streets.
“We and local councils need to have the longer term funding to find more homes and give the right levels of support and training.
“Our message to Westminster is that there needs to be a long-term strategy – as things stand there are not enough ‘move on’ housing options.
“Beyond the national emergency the Government must ensure no one returns to sleeping rough – this is a chance to end rough sleeping.”
According to government figures, there are 4,266 people sleeping rough on any given night in England, many sofa surfing and in unsuitable housing situations as well as tens of thousands more living in homelessness accommodation services that are only temporary.
Martin added: “This is now the time to end rough sleeping and end homelessness as it has shown what can be done when we all pull together to make it happen even, if it was prompted by an emergency health pandemic. Let’s not miss this moment.”