More than 50 rough sleepers are being accommodated in two Stoke-on-Trent hotels during the Covid-19 outbreak – and council chiefs say none will be forced back onto the street once the crisis is over.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council has been moving homeless people into the Crown Hotel and its Roebuck annexe in Longton over the past 11 weeks, in line with the government’s ‘Everybody In’ scheme.
While the authority had previously used a few rooms at the Roebuck, council leaders have now fully booked up both sites in order to get the city’s rough sleepers off the streets and into accommodation compatible with social distancing guidelines.
The council is paying for this using emergency government funding, with staff from Brighter Futures providing support to occupants seven days a week.
Council leader Abi Brown insisted that everybody currently accommodated at the hotels would be offered longer-term housing – although it would be up to them whether they accepted it.
She said: “We are working with local organisations such as Brighter Futures and Concrete to offer supported accommodation. There will also be some people who will be looking to move into their own housing.
“We’re in talks with the hotel management about using the hotels in this way on a more long-term basis. This has worked well over the last 11 weeks, and they have been very positive.”
Residents of the Macari Centre have also been temporarily moved into the more upmarket Holiday Inn Express, in Trentham Lakes, although the council is in the process of relocating them into housing ‘pods’ at a new site in Hanley.
Most hotels in the UK were closed at the start of the lockdown, and they are not set to reopen to paying guests until July 4 at the earliest.
A spokesman for the Crown Hotel Group, which runs the Crown and Roebuck, said: “The Crown Hotel is beyond proud of what is being achieved during the current pandemic – we are housing customers from the area with a range of different support needs which are also being addressed within the hotel.
“We have worked with partners to ensure everything that was required in order to facilitate such a fantastic service which is easily accessible for all customers on the ground floor following social distancing and personal protective equipment guidelines. I am proud of all our teams in the hotels and how hard they are working during these challenging times.”
Brighter Futures staff are working with the homeless people accommodated at the hotels, helping them access support services for any underlying issues they may have, such as addiction or mental health problems.
Gemma Finn, Stoke-on-Trent rough sleeper co-ordinator at Brighter Futures, said: “Our Rough Sleeper Team has put a lot of thought into setting this up and work tirelessly to help people move on from the streets every day of the year. Finding accommodation and a place to stay for people is the first step, but we know so much more needs to be done if we’re to help them to move away from the streets in the long-term.
“We have a great relationship with so many partner organisations in Stoke-on-Trent. We lead a rough sleeper action group for the city, we discuss individual cases and agree on a support plan we think will work best for each person, this is another good example of working together to end homelessness in Stoke-on-Trent.”
Nicola Johnson, operational manager for homelessness services at Brighter Futures, added: “This is working well, customers are able to access support with ease.
“We are not only offering a safe environment for the delivery of support sessions, but the staff are working hard to deliver a range of activities aimed at addressing mindfulness and wellbeing. Customers can access support seven days a week which is vital in their long-term journey.
“We have formed an excellent working relationship with the hotel management team, ensuring customers’ safety needs are adhered to at all times.”
At the start of the lockdown councils were instructed to bring rough sleepers in off the street and relocate homeless people living in hostels, such as the Macari Centre.
The city council has received around £16 million of coronavirus funding from government, to help it meet the additional costs of dealing with the crisis, including those related to housing. This is on top of the £952,046 it was previously allocated from the Rough Sleeper Initiative in 202021.
While the council will probably need further financial support, Mrs Brown insisted that cost pressures would not result in the support for homeless people being withdrawn.
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She added: “This is another brilliant example of how the city council, its partners and local businesses have come together to support some of the most vulnerable members of our community during the coronavirus outbreak.
“Central government has asked all councils to ensure that nobody has to sleep rough during the current pandemic, and we have worked closely with Brighter Futures and The Crown Hotel to ensure that rough sleepers have a safe place to stay.
“Additionally, we understand that providing a roof over someone’s head is often not the only answer to dealing with the many challenges that some of these people may face. We are providing funding for specialist advice, support and security to work alongside hotel staff to ensure that people are able to start their journey towards accessing more secure accommodation and to support them to move on from the streets when this pandemic is over.”
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