How Preston has tried to protect its rough sleepers from coronavirus
Almost two dozen rough sleepers have left Preston’s streets in less than a week after being found accommodation as part of the city’s efforts to protect them from coronavirus.
Homelessness charity The Foxton Centre told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that it estimates only three people are still without a roof following a government request for local authorities to house all rough sleepers by the start of this week.
“Our outreach team is going out looking for other people, but some don’t want to be found,” explained The Foxton Centre’s chief executive Jeff Marsh.
“It’s been a monumental effort by my team and we’ve moved mountains to make it happen – I’m proud of them.”
The charity said that 19 people are currently in a hotel in the city which was commissioned by Preston City Council in response to the government’s call to provide shelter, while nine others have been placed in self-contained flats. Out of those numbers, seven had been moved from the charity’s own emergency accommodation which has been forced to close as a result of coronavirus restrictions.
That means a total of 21 people who are now being housed have come directly from Preston’s streets. The aim is for all of them to be moved from the hotel and into private accommodation as soon as possible.
Mr. Marsh said that the reaction of the homeless community to Covid-19 had been as mixed as it was within the general population.
“Some people who have underlying health conditions are terrified of catching it, because they fear they’re going to die. Others are obviously trying not to think about it.”
Meanwhile, new figures show that there are 2,666 empty properties in Preston – more than 40 percent of which have been vacant for six months or more. The total – for October 2019 – is slightly down on a year earlier.
Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown said that the authority’ s Making Homes From Houses scheme had brought 16 empty properties back into use since it launched two years ago.
“Our teams work with empty dwelling owners to purchase and refurbish the properties to bring them up to a decent standard. This enables families on the social housing waiting list to move into a new home at an affordable rent, made possible by combining new housing developer contributions with funding from [social landlord] Community Gateway Association.
“We are the only council to be utilising funding to bring empty properties back in to use in this way and this was a key factor in the project being announced as a finalist in the UK Housing Awards.
“Empty, run down properties can be a blight on neighbourhoods and also attract anti-social behaviour which no-one wants on their doorstep. They are also a waste of a valuable resource when there is a national shortage of affordable housing
“The main aims of the scheme are to alleviate the issue of properties being left abandoned for whatever reason and help to provide homes for families in need or those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless – all at affordable rents underlying the Council’s commitment to provide affordable homes for people in Preston,” Cllr Brown added.
A further £400,000 in council funding has recently been agreed to continue the project for another two years.
GET SET TO SLEEP IN
The Foxton Centre is appealing for Prestonians to get involved with a lockdown-compliant version of its Big Sleep Out fundraiser.
The inaugural event last November raised more than £90,000 after over 300 people spent the night sleeping at Preston North End’s Deepdale stadium.
Now the charity is inviting people to take part in a rather less demanding fundraising effort by asking them to zip into a sleeping bag in their own homes on Good Friday (10th April), take a picture of themselves holding a up a message showing their support for the city’s homeless – and make a donation.
Although the Big Sleep In, as it has been named, has been born out of necessity, Foxton Centre chief executive Jeff Marsh says that there is an added bonus to the spin which has been put on last year’s event.
“Lots of young people wanted to take part in the Big Sleep Out, but we couldn’t really allow anybody under 18 to do it. So this year we said we wanted to do something for young people – it’s just a way of involving them in the discussion about homelessness.
“As everybody is stuck at home, we thought why not ask parents and kids to sleep in? It might be a bit of a laugh in the current climate.
“Then hopefully, after all this is over, it will make us think more of what we want our society to be like. If we’re able to mobilise our country like this in exceptional circumstances, why weren’t we doing it before?
“When the motivation is right, we seem able to do a lot.,” Mr. Marsh added.
Money raised will go towards to the charity’s work, which includes currently paused plans to buy their own rundown vacant property and invite homeless people in the city to help renovate it as part of the Housing First initiative, which provides accommodation and open-ended support to log-term homeless people to help them overcome a wider range of problems that they may be experiencing.
The Big Sleep In starts at 7pm on Good Friday. To donate £1, text PNESLEEPIN to 70085. Adding a number to the end of the message allows you to increase your donation to that amount – so to donate £10, text PNESLEEPIN 10 to the same phone number.
Anybody taking part is asked to use the hashtag #pnesleepin and take a selfie to promote the event on social media.