Revealed: frontline cost of battling homelessness in the crisis

If nothing else, the coronavirus emergency has demonstrated beyond all doubt that, if the political will exists, there is absolutely no reason for there to be a single person unfortunate enough to be living on the streets.

Emergency measures have been successful in providing a bed for 90% of rough sleepers

At the beginning of the emergency, the government issued an edict to local authorities for them to use public buildings to ensure that all those sleeping on the streets were to be provided with accommodation as a matter of urgency because they had been identified as being particularly vulnerable to covid-19.

In Croydon, rooms for some of the borough’s most vulnerable individuals were found in a local hotel.

According to sources within the voluntary sector, the council’s work to put a roof over the heads of the homeless and to provide them with regular warm meal has been very effective, with only one or two people seen to be still sleeping on the streets of the town centre, instead of the dozen or so who resorted to rough sleeping in the days before the pandemic.

A government announcement at the weekend said that nationally, 5,400 rough sleepers had been found accommodation during the emergency – estimated at being about 90 per cent of those who were sleeping out before the crisis.

And now, the government has established a special working party to ensure that, after the lockdown is lifted, those who have been taken off the streets have no need to return there.

In the meantime, the work of charities and voluntary organisations on the frontline, such as Croydon Nightwatch, continues, with an ever-greater demand on their already limited resources.

Nightwatch chair Jad Adams getting ready for one of the charity’s nightly food runs

According to Jad Adams, the long-standing chair of Nightwatch, the charity spent nearly £10,000 in April in their various activities, including their nightly food run in Queen’s Gardens for those struggling with poverty.

“Most of our clients are not literally on the streets, they are in hostels, squats, overcrowded accommodation,” Adams said. “Some have homes and tenancy agreements but don’t have enough money for food and household bills.”

The sort of things that Nightwatch spent money on during April include:

  • PPE £370
  • Food £3,400
  • Rough sleeper bags £1,400
  • Gift Cards £3,000
  • Fridge £450
  • Snacks £30

The gift cards, Adams explains, are Sainsbury’s vouchers given to clients “so they can shop for themselves as most places they go to for food are now closed”.

At the beginning of the emergency, Nightwatch was asked to put together bags of food (costing £35 a time) for the rough sleepers who are in self-isolation in the temporary accommodation sourced by the council.

“We are buying food ingredients for volunteers to make up from Café Deli, and buying made-up meal packs from Simply Lunch. Both of these have long been our supporters and have really come to the fore during this crisis,” Adams said.

“At the beginning of the crisis, as many as 30 of our regular volunteers had to stand down or began self-isolating, and so they were no longer available for front-line duties. Several senior people have stayed at their desks and given invaluable management support, but in the end, we have to have people on the ground to prepare and distribute food.

“We appealed for help via Inside Croydon, the Croydon Voluntary Action and our MP Sarah Jones’ network and we have had a wonderful response from people who wanted to volunteer during the crisis. We now have 43 new volunteers and on some nights have had entire teams going out with new volunteers.

“We also have new sources of food: One Million Meals distributed 70 meals to our clients one night last week and the British Bangladeshi Society Croydon will do the same this week, after the Mayor of Croydon, Councillor Humayun Kabir suggested it.

Nightwatch volunteers putting together their food bags ready for distribution

“We are seeing slightly more clients than usual, indicative of the way other sources of food for the very poor have disappeared – there’s no church lunch clubs now that the churches are closed, for instance.

“We are also seeing some atypical clients who we do not see in normal circumstances – a mother with a seven-year-old child last week, and dads coming out to get food for their families. We direct these to more appropriate sources fo food such as food banks and the Croydon Mutual Aid organisation.”

Adams estimates that Nightwatch could be spending as much as £2,100 per week as the lockdown continues, buying food supplies, providing food vouchers and purchasing personal protection equipment – PPE – for use by their volunteers.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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