The journey from living on the streets in March to staying in a hotel to being permanently housed would have been largely unthinkable before the Covid-19 pandemic – for some Big Issue vendors and rough sleepers it has become a reality.
The government has now forked out almost half a billion pounds in a bid to seize the golden opportunity to end rough sleeping handed to them by Covid-19.
First came an unprecedented effort to get Everyone In, with 14,610 rough sleepers moved off the streets virtually overnight under the scheme in March. That’s now a thing of the past, with the launch of the £266m Next Steps Accommodation Programme the focus of ministers’ efforts, including £105m to help councils support rough sleepers still being put up in places such as hotels and student accommodation. A further £161m is available to source the 3,300 additional supported homes that the government promised to deliver in the next 12 months to prevent a return to the streets.
Even as Big Issue vendors all over the country returned to their pitches on July 6, they were at different stages of the process. We spoke to some of them to find out how their living situations had been changed for the better by Covid-19.
There are currently around 2,000 Big Issue sellers working hard on the streets each week.
‘I’ve got a lot to be thankful to this disease for, it sounds strange but I have’
Homeless for 15 years before March, Dawlish vendor Dave Campion rejected previous housing offers because he was keen to retain the independence that life on the streets brought. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed his outlook for good.
The 39-year-old was offered a spot in a Premier Inn at the start of lockdown before he moved into a B&B in Newton Abbot, although he complained to the council about his difficulties maintaining social distancing.
The result was a move to a one-bedroom flat in May – his first experience of independent living indoors for years.
Dave, who sells the magazine outside Ryder’s Bakery in the town, said: “To start off it was a bit mental – it was nice to have but at the same time I had all the stress of worrying about bills.
“But I’ve come to really enjoy it now. The council have been really good with me, and if I’m not keeping on top of things then I can get in touch with them or they get in touch with me. I’ve had plenty of support from them and The Big Issue.”
Dave insisted he “wasn’t interested” in permanent accommodation before the Everyone In scheme, but his experiences have had a transformative effect.
He added: “I wouldn’t be where I am without the virus. I’ve got a lot to be thankful to this disease for, it sounds strange but I have. It’s changed my mindset. I never thought I would be able to live indoors on my own, let alone through a lockdown.
“I feel wounded for those people who walked out of hotels. I understand but I’ve seen the end product and the light at the end of the tunnel is actually pretty bright.”
‘I’ve spoken to my case worker once and he asked me if I’m happy to stay and that’s about it’
Marylebone station vendor Kris Dove, 29, told The Big Issue he was “lucky” to be housed in a hotel back in March despite battles with boredom and initial struggles with the food on offer.
After previously staying in hostels and rough sleeping before lockdown, Newcastle native Kris is now in a self-contained unfurnished property in London after assistance from homeless charity St Mungo’s and Westminster City Council.
He is still grateful to the organisations for offering him a pathway off the streets but he is now glad to have money from magazine sales flowing in once again as he grapples with paying bills. But he is keen to receive more support.
Kris said: “Since I moved in, I have spoken to my case worker once, he asked me if I’m happy to stay at the property and that is about it.”
‘I’m getting some support with securing accommodation but it could be better. I’m working on that’
Shrewsbury vendor Mark Chapman is still staying in an en-suite room in a hotel in the Shropshire town and has been there since the Everyone In scheme was launched in March.
Now he is keen to get permanent accommodation but is stuck in limbo in the hotel while he works through the bidding process. He had previously been rough sleeping after losing a tenancy in Birmingham.
He told The Big Issue: “It’s not easy being in a bidding situation without evidence of five years of previous accommodation.
“I’m getting some support with securing accommodation but it could be better. I’m working on that.”
‘The whole world has changed and now I have to change with it’
Exeter Central station vendor Sean, 61, was living in a tent in the city before the Everybody In scheme launched. He was moved into a self-contained room in March by homelessness charity St Petroc’s and the council and on the advice of his doctor due to underlying health conditions.
Even though he described the property as “nice”, The Big Issue had to step in to buy him a set of pots and pans to help him feed himself during lockdown. He also felt like his “freedom of choice had been removed” when his tent was removed and disposed of by the council without prior warning.
While still in the temporary accommodation, RAF veteran Sean is working with St Petroc’s to find council accommodation. He told The Big Issue that he had a “totally different plan” before the pandemic hit. Now his goal is a permanent home rather than an extended tent stay.
He said: “The whole world has changed and now I have to change with it.”
‘Long-term I want a permanent place, my mindset has changed over the last few weeks’
Truro’s Craig O’Shea spent the early part of lockdown rough sleeping in his tent after refusing the local council’s accommodation offer, fearing that increased contact would make it more likely that he would contract Covid-19.
The Big Issue continued to support him, even providing him with a solar-powered phone charger to keep him safe while rough sleeping.
But Mancunian Craig, who sells the magazine at Mallets in the town, told The Big Issue that his experiences of rough sleeping during the lockdown have changed his mindset and he has been housed in a converted shipping container ‘pod’ for the last month.
Craig said: “Cornwall Housing worked with me and offered me one of the pods, I had turned round to them and said: ‘I don’t want shared accommodation, I don’t want a hostel, I want my own place.’ That’s how it came about.
“It’s been peaceful to live in the pod, it’s been quiet. Long term I want a permanent place, my mindset has changed over the last few weeks because I kept getting attacked and my tent kept getting trashed so I thought: ‘I need to go indoors now.’ I prefer to be indoors.”