How BCHA is housing and supporting rough sleepers during the Covid-19 crisis

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The challenge of rehousing rough sleepers during the Covid-19 crisis has been and continues to be a complex process, in which South West based charitable housing association BCHA is playing a pivotal role by both housing and supporting the needs of people who are street homeless.

The Everybody In campaign was a coordinated effort by local authorities working with local partners, like BCHA, in response to the Government’s request in March 2020 to house everyone from the streets. Each local authority has their own individual localised plan and BCHA contributes its expertise in housing and support services with South West authorities based on the requirements of their plans and the funding that is available in different areas.

Central Government’s rough sleepers’ directive had the additional benefit of bringing in a large number of street homeless who had not engaged previously with support services. This has enabled everyone to be accurately assessed for their needs and given a personal plan supporting their move on to suitable, sustainable accommodation. This individualised assistance would not otherwise have been available to them.

This is not a consistent process, but the golden thread is a needs based assessment and working in a multi-disciplinary way to find the most suitable accommodation type. Customers are then welcomed into the accommodation and the arrangements for their stay are explained.

Local authorities and their partners are currently focusing on finding permanent housing solutions for those rough sleeping or homeless housed in different types of temporary accommodation, including B&Bs, guest houses, hotels and hostels, and will use the needs assessments to help inform the process to find permanent accommodation.

Headquartered in Bournemouth and with 320 staff, BCHA is a charitable housing association, which helps thousands of vulnerable people each year with housing, specialist accommodation, employability skills and health and wellbeing advice.

BCHA has 1,366 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.

As the Covid-19 crisis unfolded, BCHA, working in close collaboration with multi-agency partners across the South and South West, acted quickly to meet the urgent need for additional accommodation and essential support services for people who were either sleeping rough or who would have been temporarily homeless during lockdown.

During the Covid-19 crisis, BCHA has housed 232 new individuals across the region, some of whom were previously rough sleepers, while others may have had to resort to rough sleeping due to a change in their circumstances during Covid. These people probably would have been homeless had BCHA not stepped in to help provide accommodation. They have been housed in various types of temporary accommodation including B & B’s, hotels and guesthouses, and leased houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), which would otherwise have been left empty due to the collapse of the tourist industry in the area or students not returning to their studies.

As lockdown eases, we are seeing some increase in the numbers of people returning to rough sleeping, plus the temporary accommodation that has been offered isn’t always suitable for some individuals who find living in shared accommodation challenging and consequently return to the streets.

Since lockdown started BCHA has been an active member of various groups, such as the Homelessness Forum Partnership which covers the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) conurbation, and the Plymouth Alliance in Devon. The groups, which are attended by senior figures from regional organisations such as BCP Council (Homeless Partnership) and Plymouth Council (Plymouth Alliance), housing associations, the police and charities such as Faithworks, meet regularly and act as an information service to present national and local strategy. They are also focusing on specific areas of homelessness and providing workable future rehousing strategies, post the temporary accommodation phase. It is likely that this housing will be a combination of supported housing, private rented and local authority properties.

Both the Homelessness Partnership and the Plymouth Alliance have provided funding for the temporary housing of rough sleepers/homeless people. Members of the Plymouth Alliance have worked together early on to secure some temporary accommodation as part of the Everyone In campaign, while in other areas local authorities have worked directly with B&B’s.

In Plymouth, a successful bid to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) for £104,646 was made jointly by the Plymouth Alliance, in conjunction with Sanctuary Housing. This will provide for the next six months, four additional dispersed family units and outreach support (Sanctuary) and a six bed 24-hour supported shared house for single females homeless as a result of domestic abuse (BCHA).

Martin Hancock, the Chief Executive of BCHA, explains how BCHA has adapted its working practices and how it is working to find permanent solutions for people who were rough sleeping as well as move on for people already in supported housing:

“It’s important to have some context. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) estimates that 15,000 people were accommodated nationwide in addition to those already in temporary accommodation. The Government has committed new capital and revenue funding to support the delivery of 3000 units in the next 12 months (6000 within two years) and we are waiting to hear how that money will be cascaded down through local authorities or ideally directly to providers on the ground to buy and build more homes and give appropriate levels of specialist support.

“BCHA has received funding for the housing/support of people brought in during lockdown from a variety of sources. However, local authorities have paid for the temporary accommodation for rough sleepers – i.e. they have made payment directly for hotels and B&Bs with money drawn down from government.

“In the meantime, we continue to have a vital part to play in the South West supporting people who were rough sleeping/homeless during the Covid-19 national emergency and we are working on strategies to ensure they remain housed post Covid-19. This includes trying to link into our employment and skills Ignite programme to increase confidence and self-esteem ready to find employment.

“This public health crisis has presented many challenges to the way BCHA delivers its services. But our staff are doing an incredible job out of the public eye in providing safe places for people to stay and keeping everyone as well as possible during these difficult times. This includes more use of technology, purchasing laptops to help some of the families in our Domestic Abuse services engage with school online teaching, and we were able to hand out around 80 replacement mobile phones to help keep customers connected with us and their own networks.

“There is a huge amount of work going on behind the scenes. Working with partners on the ground, we have had to adapt the ways in which our services are delivered and we are engaging with customers in different ways in order to give support. Even now, with the easing of restrictions, we are still having to provide innovative solutions. It’s all about protecting both customers and our staff. We certainly still have some way to go before a full return to business as usual, whatever that might be, but we were able to enable significant changes to more remote and agile working for our staff with the technologies we already had available.

“Adhering to social distancing, for example, has proved challenging, but the vast majority of people have adapted well and are very understanding. We have had to change how communal areas are used and to 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 local services 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 created single occupancy accommodation to reduce any virus risk, and occupiers, some of whom may not have family or friends, where relevant can access a 24-hour phone line to talk things through with a listening ear.”

“Reception areas are marked with 2metre lines for social distancing, with handwashing and sanitiser gel for use before entry.

“The big challenge now both morally and practically is how do we ensure that people who were sleeping rough without a roof over their head can remain safely accommodated and off the streets. It is crucial that we do not return to the pre covid-19 situation with large numbers of vulnerable people on the streets.

“There’s a large number of people that need to be helped, but as has been shown in the Everybody In campaign, it can be achieved with a coordinated approach, a can do attitude and real commitment from central government to make things happen. The big question is whether that will continue with guaranteed revenue funding for the next three or four years, as well as additional social housing capital grant to buy and build more affordable homes.”

Key BCHA statistics

  • Total households in temporary accommodation: 529
  • During the Covid-19 crisis, BCHA has housed 232 new individuals, some of whom were previously rough sleepers, while others may have had to resort to rough sleeping due to a change in their circumstances during Covid. These people probably would have been homeless had BCHA not stepped in to help provide accommodation:
    • March – 73
    • April – 106
    • May – 53  

Gender:

  • 87 – female
  • 145 – males 

Area:             

  • East (Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire) - 71
  • West (Devon, Somerset) – 143

Management:

  • General needs – 11
  • Supported needs – 221

Vulnerability:

  • Not vulnerable – 228
  • Vulnerable – 4

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