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Housing

Covid-19 lockdown: ‘Bringing rough sleepers into hotels helps everybody’

A Shropshire hotel manager tells The Big Issue why the Everyone In scheme must continue

The government has announced a second lockdown for England and a £15m fund for rough sleepers,a fraction of what was available for similar protective measures back in March.

So a Shropshire hotel manager has taken matters into her own hands, opening the doors for those experiencing homelessness, cooking two meals a day for her residents, supporting them through mental health struggles and inviting people in off the streets when they need it.

The Prince Rupert Hotel sits on the cobbled streets of Shrewsbury town centre, a Grade II-listed building on the corner of Butcher Row and Fish Street that would look the same in the 17th century as it did in the 1970s, save for a few new features and fittings. But over the summer it has been one of many to house 15,000 rough sleepers through the government’s Everyone In scheme during the first national lockdown.

They have continued providing shelter to homeless people ever since, accommodating 57 people over the last eight months. It is only an agreement with the local council that means they can continue to house rough sleepers throughout the new lockdown restrictions in England.

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With no word on a repeat of the Everyone In scheme, manager Charlie Green told The Big Issue that hotels should be called upon to provide support. New Covid-19 restrictions mean the vast majority are currently only permitted to host key workers.

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“What the government should be doing is saying to hotels: ‘Look, open your doors to the homeless, this works’,” Green said. “We are the prime example that this works.

“They’ll be able to keep on several members of staff depending on how many they need for the residents. It will keep people in jobs, they’ll keep the hotel alive.

“By doing this scheme, it’s helping everybody. We’re coming up to winter and we’ve had another frost again last night. These guys can’t be on the street, they have to be accommodated.”

The government’s swift and decisive action in March to house rough sleepers in hotels and other emergency accommodation was largely considered a success.

But with the new lockdown beginning today, there is still no word from central government on how rough sleepers will be protected from Covid-19 this time around.

With funding from Shropshire Council, the Grade II listed Prince Rupert Hotel has been able to house rough sleepers throughout the year, including Big Issue vendor Mark Chapman, who sadly died earlier this year.

That support has seen 23 people permanently housed as a result while nine formerly homeless people have continued to live in the hotel since the Everyone In scheme ended in the summer.

Charlie is one of three members of staff who left their families to move into Prince Rupert to provide 24/7 care, returning back to their homes only three weeks ago.

With the second lockdown, all three are preparing to move back into the hotel full-time as they have renewed their offer of protection to rough sleepers. One person has become a new resident in the last few days.

And the change of clientele in the hotel has seen Charlie take on a new role as an outreach worker, inviting rough sleepers to come in off the streets as well as cooking two meals a day for their new guests.

I think we’re going to have a harsh winter and the government has got to really think hard about what they’re doing with rough sleepers

Charlie added: “We haven’t just taken this on and decided that we’re still hoteliers. We’ve taken it on 100 per cent and we do everything: we talk to them about their mental health and we cuddle them.

“It’s worked absolutely perfectly because our policy is that when they move in they’re not homeless anymore. They’re a resident of the Prince Rupert Hotel, they have an address and that gives them a sense of pride

“I’m really excited about this new lockdown — I must be the only person in the country that is — because it just means that we can get more people in and try to turn a few more lives around. Everybody thinks I’m crazy.”

There have been growing calls for an ‘Everyone In 2’ from homelessness campaigners and charities ever since Boris Johnson made the announcement that a full national lockdown would return in England.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government told The Big Issue “something is in the works” but no timeframe has been given for an announcement. Meanwhile, rough sleepers with nowhere else to go remain on the street.

Homeless Link has insisted that the homelessness sector is “keen to play our part” in their own calls for another Everyone In scheme while Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes called efforts earlier this year “transformative” and urged the government to fund councils to repeat them.

Shelter chief executive Polly Neate insisted that a second Everyone In scheme must include all rough sleepers, including those who councils do not have a legal duty to help, while social housing must be the long-term answer to avoid a return to the streets for many.

“With cases of this deadly virus on the rise and a second lockdown likely to trigger further job losses, we simply cannot allow more people to be made street homeless right now,” said Neate.

“It is vital the government makes it clear to councils that they must provide safe accommodation to anyone who is homeless or faced with the streets.”

Prince Rupert manager Charlie agrees with the experts and believes action should be taken nationwide to replicate the hotel’s success elsewhere.

She concluded: “I think we’re going to have a harsh winter and the government has got to really think hard about what they’re doing with rough sleepers. And also with people losing their jobs there are so many people who need help.”

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