What’s happening to Derby’s rough sleepers during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Published: 16 June 2020
Derby City Council, in partnership with Derby Homes, Derbyshire Constabulary, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Derbyshire and local housing providers and faith groups, are finalising how the most vulnerable in the city will be housed as lockdown measures begin to ease.
Back in March, the Government asked local authorities to bring in everyone off the streets “by the end of the week” to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health of the most vulnerable. In response, Derby City Council quickly booked all 100 rooms at the Holiday Inn Express on Pride Park to allow people to maintain social distancing.
This added to the city’s current 43-bed, temporary accommodation provision at Milestone House and the existing bed and breakfast framework.
The hotel opened its doors to rough sleepers on Friday 27th March. Since then, the Council has helped over 141 unique guests at the hotel, with daily guest numbers settling down to around 45-50 per night.
The accommodation has not only housed rough sleepers: it has also provided shelter for others who stayed for a range of reasons, both short and longer term, and who have either returned to existing or found alternative accommodation as soon as it was available.
During their stay, individuals received enhanced levels of support, with provision of food, a laundry service and a 24-hour on-site support service provided by the Safe Space Partnership and other outreach teams. Guests also received daily COVID-19 health checks and support from a commissioned paramedic.
What happens next?
The temporary arrangement with the Holiday Inn Express comes to an end soon, which means the Council and partners must now look at how to continue to support rough sleepers during the pandemic.
Cllr Roy Webb, Cabinet lead for Housing, said:
We’ve pulled together a plan for how to manage the next steps. Just because lockdown is easing, doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods yet. We are committed to ensuring every individual who has used the hotel receives an offer of accommodation and support appropriate to their needs.
This will involve a range of housing and support to encourage people into longer term homes. The plan has been developed with key stakeholders and providers in the city and has included input from people with lived experience of rough sleeping.
Cllr Webb continued:
My hope is that everyone who receives an offer accepts it, however we know historically that is not always the case. We must also look at how we support those who feel unable to accept our offer. We do this best through working with partners – it’s a real team effort. The pandemic has brought partners closer together than ever before in their efforts to support the city’s most vulnerable residents. Our plan is to build on our previous approaches, applying learning from the temporary measures at the Holiday Inn and a thorough assessment of the capacity of the city’s providers, based on needs assessments of rough sleepers.
An enhanced, whole-system approach will see a new support hub created, consisting of all partners involved in delivering accommodation and support for rough sleepers. This pulls together housing provision with primary/emergency healthcare services, policing, mental health and drug/alcohol support and benefits, training and employment services.
Outreach services will return to pre-lockdown levels and the provision of floating support will be reinvented and expanded.
Naturally, accommodation is a key part of the plan and a new “Providers Forum” made up of Council Housing, Registered Providers, Supported Housing Providers, Hostels, Approved Premises and Refuges will coordinate move-on options for those who are ready. For those with greater needs, partners are exploring ways of increasing shared, supported accommodation in the city.
A vital aspect of the plan involves restoring the Safe Space in the city, managed by Derby City Mission on behalf of the Safe Space Partnership; a collaboration between the Police and Crime Commissioner for Derbyshire, the Council and Derby Homes.
This unique service ensures that individuals in crisis during the recovery phase do not have to sleep rough and can access the right “joined-up” help as soon as possible. This is often the case for those with high levels of complex needs who find it challenging to sustain a home and who sadly return to rough sleeping.
The Council is also exploring a new “Housing First” pilot, a successful concept from Finland with many areas in UK already adopting the model which aims to recognise the need for a home as the starting point for behavioural change.
Cllr Webb said:
While the virus continues to pose a threat to us all, it remains important that we continue to help and support vulnerable people in Derby. Those without a home or who are sleeping rough are significantly more likely to have underlying health conditions, including respiratory problems, than the wider population. We know that rough sleepers will find it more to follow Public Health England’s advice on self-isolation, social distancing and handwashing if there is lack of accommodation, so we must help wherever possible.
Safe Space Partnership lead and Police and Crime Commissioner, Hardyal Dhindsa added:
The global health crisis presented us with an emergency situation and I’m proud of the swift action taken by partners to protect the lives of homeless individuals and the wider community. This benefited all the partners and those receiving the service. I would want the lessons learned to be central to how we progress this work in the future. We now have an exceptional opportunity to successfully tackle rough sleeping. By working together, we can ensure robust support is in place to help people successfully transition from emergency Covid-19 accommodation to an independent life in self-supported housing. Our new, purposely designed Safe Space facility will play a key role in these efforts, helping people to overcome the problems which have contributed to their homelessness.
Martin Coombes, Operations Director at Atlas Hotels said:
The Coronavirus pandemic has changed so much about how we all live our lives. We were required to close our hotels at the end of March, however, we are very proud that we could reopen the Holiday Inn Express Derby – Pride Park and assist Derby City Council to support the most vulnerable who needed our help at this time more than ever. We are so proud of our team in Derby, led by Hotel Operations Manager, Mark Jobling, who have worked tirelessly to support and offer refuge to Derby’s rough sleepers. They have played an instrumental part in the battle against Coronavirus and we thank them all for their professionalism and compassion shown.