CROYDON IN CRISIS: Charity workers express their worries that the consequences of the council’s financial collapse could be felt the hardest by some of the borough’s most vulnerable, ELLA HOPKINS reports
At the start of the first coronavirus lockdown in March last year, the Government issued an edict to local authorities to use public buildings as emergency shelters for the homeless, to try to limit the spread of the covid-19 virus.
Although funding for the scheme was withdrawn in June, the Croydon Council was given an additional £635,000 grant in October to continue its work to tackle homelessness.
“It became possible overnight to house homeless people,” said Jad Adams, the long-standing chair of Croydon Nightwatch, the local-based homelessness charity.
The Government’s action shows, Adams says, “That the money was there – homelessness was only ever a matter of political will.”
Compared with the United States, where the number of deaths from covid of homeless people is “horrifying”, in Britain there has not been a higher rate of deaths from the virus among homeless people than the general population.
“I’m glad that this country did address the matter as we did,” Adams said.
“We were all saying the same thing. I hope that’s going to continue after the pandemic.”
Not all rough sleepers are in temporary shelter though.
According to Adams, the current street count in Croydon is 16 people, but he knows that there are more.
Croydon Nightwatch has continued its nightly service throughout the pandemic, where volunteers, equipped with PPE, meet with homeless people and provide hot meals and support. “We are doing our best from week to week during the pandemic. We don’t know when it’s going to end.”
A lot of Nightwatch’s work is “constantly engaging with people” about their needs. This has not been “difficult” to maintain during lockdown.
Still, through the nightly soup kitchen, Nightwatch has managed to “maintain a constant presence in lives that are chaotic”.
Adams said: “I know that the homeless community value that very much.”
Though rough sleepers have been given shelter, those in temporary hostels and other accommodation remain in limbo, with permanent housing out of reach.
“We look after people at different levels of homelessness. Those who are street homeless, in squats, those who have somewhere to live but don’t have enough money for food,” said Adams.
“Most of our expenditure is for resettling former homeless people who are moving into accommodation. They’ll get a key and tenancy agreement but not much else.
“We help provide a fridge, a cooker and household goods.”
But during the pandemic, this resettlement work has not been possible. It was challenging enough pre-pandemic, he said, with people stuck on the housing waiting list for years.
But since lockdown was first declared, there has been no movement on resettlement. “Homeless people were stuck where they were.”
Now charity outreach workers in Croydon like Adams face further worries and uncertainty, because of the council’s financial collapse.
“Croydon has been very good, compared with other councils,” Adams said.
“But the council’s bankruptcy makes that hard.”
“The council have lost all their choice,” he said. Most of the support the council has provided has been from “discretionary” spending. And while the council is still legally required to support young, older and vulnerable people, the majority of homeless people that Nightwatch supports – single men and women – could be left out in the cold.
“All these people in the middle, there is no provision for them.”
Throughout the pandemic, more attention has been given to mental health issues, loneliness and isolation – experiences many homeless people know all too well. “More people experienced what homeless people experience all the time,” said Adams.
“Every day is a crisis for those who are homeless.”
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