Being homeless is challenging at the best of times, but rough sleepers have faced even more adversity since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Being homeless during a pandemic brings about a unique set of challenges and we are finding the work at this time to be both shocking and frustrating in equal measure.
Within this COVID-19 crisis we are finding an increase in rough sleepers, sofa surfers, and new homeless cases particularly from Cornwall’s major industries – tourism and hospitality. There is an increase in clients with no recourse to public funds, and in many cases, individuals with complex needs that other agencies are reluctant or struggling to work with. There are more cases as a consequence of the COVID-19 crisis than we could have anticipated.
During the past five months we have adapted our services and resource centres and put measures in place to ensure our clients’ essential needs are met. This included extending our opening hours to allow safe, socially distanced access to essentials such as food, showers, advice, medical care, laundry washing, phone charging, and more.
Thanks to the support we have received during this time we have been able to stay completely open and operational throughout the pandemic. The community support once again has been phenomenal, we are incredibly grateful for all the support received.
Our Covid-19 Crowdfunder appeal exceeded our expectations and we have been staggered at the amazing community support being shown to us. We are delighted to have raised over thirty-two thousand pounds! These funds have gone a long way in helping us to ensure all our services remained open and operational.
In addition to the funds raised from the Crowdfunder appeal we have received emergency grant funding from organisations such as Crisis, Homeless Link, The National Lottery Community Fund, and the Duchy Health Charity. Grants are an essential source of income for St Petrocs and these emergency funds made available specifically to cope with the effects of the pandemic have been essential to enable us to navigate these unprecedented times.
The crisis has created a whole new layer of homelessness that was not predicted and as such we have been seeing people who have been propelled into homelessness unexpectedly, with extreme and complex situations.
Helen, age 63. We met Helen outside some offices in Truro where she had been sleeping rough for a few nights. She had no sleeping bag and no phone. One of the few possessions she had was a slip of paper with St Petrocs’ details written on it, which was given to her at Heathrow Airport, however she had had no way of finding our centre. Helen was an English Teacher in another country for 12 years where she had a home, a job, pets, friends, and a well-established life out there. As a consequence of the COVID-19 crisis her visa was cancelled and she was returned to the UK, leaving everything behind. She slept rough for a few nights at the airport before the Heathrow Travel Care charity put her on a train to Cornwall as that is where she was born and was her last known address in the country. Upon arriving in Cornwall, the Local Authority determined that she had no local connection. Helen replied that her Cornish family had all passed away and she had no other friends in Cornwall. It was quickly established by St Petrocs that she had no recourse to public funds. St Petrocs lobbied the Local Authority and she has been temporarily housed in a caravan park. We are delivering food parcels to her daily. We have supplied her with a telephone, and we are continuing to support and are working with the benefit agencies trying to obtain a positive outcome.
And John, age 35. John is a Cornish resident where his father who is very unwell also lives. He was sofa surfing in his sister’s flat, who had severe and enduring mental health issues. His sister threw him out at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis making him homeless (within a week his sister committed suicide). St Petrocs supported John into Temporary Accommodation in a hotel in Penzance. John is confused and has found himself in an environment that he does not understand or comprehend. We are continuing to support him and his own mental health to ensure that we can secure permanent accommodation for him in an environment where he will feel settled and safe. At this point in time, we are John’s only support network.
We are also working with people at risk of becoming homeless, or what is known as ‘hidden homeless’, such as people who are sofa surfing. For example, Libby, age 24. Libby is a long-term sofa surfer who has found there are no more sofas for her to stay on. Her friends are increasingly concerned that she is moving round from house to house, particularly during the COVID-19 crisis. Her parents are elderly with underlying health issues and are too vulnerable for her to return home. All her support networks are in a particular area of Cornwall so she would wish to remain in that location. Initial assessments indicate that she has very high support needs, and further investigation will be required for both her physical and mental health. St Petrocs will continue to work with her to establish a longer term and safe solution. The priority is to find her accommodation of her own, even if only on a temporary basis to ensure that she does not end up on the street and even more vulnerable.
At the beginning of lockdown we were working with 26 individuals who were street homeless. At its height, we were aware of 48 individuals who were sleeping rough during lockdown at one time – the number increased as a direct consequence of the covid-19 crisis.
Overall We are aware of 200 individuals who have slept rough since the beginning of the lockdown. There are still people who are homeless continuing to access our services for the essentials and advice. We are currently working with over 20 individuals currently sleeping rough in Cornwall.
We have helped to facilitate temporary accommodation for many of those sleeping rough in self-contained pods, hotels, and caravan parks which were utilised for the Covid-19 crisis by the local authority, as well as arranging accommodation in our own houses and in private lettings, and this has been great, St Petrocs has accommodated 146 individuals since 1st April 2020. People are looking really well as a result of having shelter, and from spending time indoors with food and warmth. As is always the case though, new people are becoming homeless all the time, and work continues.
The spirits are remaining high amongst the staff at St Petrocs who are incredibly motivated to do their work. There have been so many messages of goodwill from the people of Cornwall which really help to keep us all going.