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Supporting Rough Sleepers during COVID-19

Update on the rough sleeping support offered by Fenland District Council and its partners during the pandemic.

Homelessness

Since the Government's 'Everyone In' scheme began in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Fenland District Council has placed to date a total of 82 clients into temporary accommodation.

Following advice from Public Health England, the night shelter had to close, and we were advised to place those who were at risk of rough sleeping and those already rough sleeping into accommodation. 

Although it was an initial challenge to source suitable placements for the number of clients we had in Fenland, by working with partner agencies we successfully moved our clients into accommodation and worked closely with their support providers, Ferry Project and CGL Outreach, to ensure the transition from the streets into housing was as comfortable for the clients as possible.

The impact of moving all our clients at the same time, whilst trying to manage their support needs, was huge. Services really came together to help those in need, such as the hotel staff, drug and alcohol services and local GPs. Our rough sleeper clients were not used to being in accommodation and some really struggled with the transition to being inside, especially with lockdown restrictions in place such as only going out for exercise once a day. However, with the support of the hotel staff and reinforced messages from the support workers around the importance of the restrictions, the teams worked really well with the clients.

The support provided to the clients since COVID-19 has been ever adapting and changing to suit the needs of the individual. Intense work to register all our clients with local GPs was put into place, as well as providing clients with face masks and ensuring they were aware of COVID-19 guidelines. 

Intense support was given to use the 'Everyone In' scheme as an opportunity to move our clients on into long-term accommodation. Clients were supported with looking for work and housing, applying for benefits, support with addressing any substance misuse and mobile phones were given to those without so they could stay connected to avoid feeling isolated. We were also able to support individuals with prescriptions, phone top-ups and transport to appointments where appropriate.

Due to the intensity of support provided, and the opportunity for each client to really change their life since being invited into accommodation, we have so far successfully moved circa 60 clients into long-term housing or reconnection. These outcomes have been into the Private Rented Sector with support, Supported Living accommodation and Social Housing. All placements are made with appropriate support packages in place to reduce the risk of a further loss of accommodation.

As there was such a drive and need to move clients out of temporary accommodation and into their own homes, Fenland District Council has built strong working relationships with Supported Living Providers, Private Rented Sector landlords as well as Social Housing Providers including Clarion.

We have also linked in and continue to work closely with a funded 'Housing First' support programme provided by Cambridgeshire County Council. The Housing First programme can support and accommodate our higher, more complex needs rough sleeper cohort. These working relationships will remain key moving forward out of the pandemic, with routes into accommodation remaining open for our most vulnerable homeless clients through new networks and provision secured through funding obtained from the Next Steps Accommodation Programme and more recently the Rough Sleeper Accommodation Programme. A total of 39 homes have been provided and are operational to date (36 operated in partnership with homelessness charity Amicus Trust and three with Clarion, with support provided by The Ferry Project), with a further six homes already funded and due to be completed by April 2022. The Council is also awaiting the outcome of a further bid to provide another seven homes.

Our focus remains on continuing to build relations with accommodation providers, health services with a focus around mental health, as well as work and education opportunities. Fenland District Council's approach to multi-agency working has been a key factor in the success of finding suitable long-term accommodation for our homeless community.

We also remain committed to continuing to provide outreach support for the remaining circa 20 clients that were temporarily rehoused. Some are still in temporary accommodation, and we are working with them to move them on to supported accommodation. However, some of the individuals have No Recourse for Public Funds (NRPF) due to their personal circumstances, which prevents us from being able to provide them with homelessness assistance. We are in constant communications with the Home Office asking them to lift the NRPF restrictions so we can provide greater support for these individuals. Home Office representatives have visited Wisbech already and there are talks of a possible pilot scheme locally to assist such individuals.

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