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From sleeping rough to sleeping safe

A rough sleeper huddles on a path with his dog

During the COVID-19 pandemic 79 people who usually sleep rough in Sheffield have been provided with accommodation to ensure their safety.

In response to the pandemic, the council worked with hotels and providers in the city who showed compassion and came forward to offer their services to rough sleepers who needed help. Out of those, the council chose hotels and bed and breakfasts that it has used in the past when its own temporary accommodation was already full. This meant that they were already somewhat used to being able to support those with complex needs.

Zoe Young, Housing Options and Advice Services Manager said: “The 79 people who were rough sleeping were all given accommodation and essential supplies, as well as somewhere to isolate, if needed. An additional 40 people also came forward looking for support who, before the pandemic, had either been sleeping in cars or staying at the homes of families and friends.

“We work on a daily basis to support people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness by offering advice and support to find housing options to suit their individual needs. This includes the small number of people who are sleeping rough in the city which is the most visible part of homelessness. We have offered accommodation to anyone who is sleeping rough in the city as part of the governments ‘everyone in’ directive.”

Zoe added: “Its been lovely to get comments from rough sleepers about the difference that providing emergency accommodation has made to them. One of them said to me ‘the support I have had from the outreach teams has really helped me, them being persistent and never giving up, even though sometimes I would get angry at them waking me up I am glad they didn’t stop’ and another said ‘having a worker who can coordinate my support is important, I have a lot of support and appointments and sometimes I cannot keep up.”

Out of a crisis in terms of the pandemic, there have been a number of success stories for the city’s rough sleepers. Before COVID, many people relied on begging and didn’t claim benefits but the lower footfall in the city centre has given workers a chance to offer people an alternative and 95% of people have now claimed the appropriate benefits. With the opportunity for services to go into the hotels, such as drug and alcohol and mental health services, a number of people have stopped using street drugs and have gone into treatments. Many more have accessed mental health services. One person has been given a work trial at one of the hotels.

The comments continue from rough sleepers about what the ‘everyone in’ campaign has done to help them start making some changes in their lives:

“Respect is massive, whilst being here (one of the hotels) the owners have treated me like a human being, not just another rough sleeper, there are no labels here.”

“Being on the streets I would lose track of days, miss loads of appointments, it would be great if I could carry on getting reminders. I don’t know how to use the Internet even if I had it. Since being here (the hotel) all the agencies have been coming, I signed up for a script from here and they sorted my DVT out.”

Councillor Paul Wood, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Community Safety at Sheffield City Council said: “Some rough sleepers decided not to stay at the hotels and slept rough for the night so they could still beg so there is still work to do to help them realise what it could be like to have somewhere to live, either permanently or on a temporary basis. During lockdown we have at least been able to take the opportunity to assess people and look at longer term housing options that they could sustain. We know that rough sleepers often have a number of complex needs so we are working on a proposal to keep them in accommodation whilst working with them to find solutions that work for them.”