Usually during the winter months churches open their doors and provide overnight shelter for people with no home to go to. The need for social distancing during the pandemic means this has not been a viable option this winter. The government issued funding to enable local authorities to address this and provide emergency winter provision. Canterbury City Council has done so by accommodating people in hostels, B&Bs and studio flats. In some cases people could stay only overnight , in others, they could stay 24/7. For those provided with a room available day and night, they have had a time of relative security and stability, this has laid the ground for people to cope better with the challenges they face, engage consistently with our support and potentially change their situation of homelessness. Thanks to additional government COVID19 funding Catching Lives has been able to temporarily employ additional staff and spend more one-on-one time building relationships and supporting clients to progress with their recovery.
One notable example of this is a woman who lost her cleaning job due to COVID19, with the stress of being unable to pay her rent and the rampant fear during the height of the pandemic, she experienced a mental health breakdown. English not being her first language she didn’t know who she could reach out to or what statutory support was available and she ended up sleeping on the streets for several months. Canterbury City Council accommodated her in a B&B and Catching Lives have been working with her for several months now. We have been able to support her to make a successful application for the Right to Remain in the UK, a new requirement due to Brexit. Not only did this mean she could access public funds, it was a huge relief for her to know that she will be able to stay in the UK where her grown up children are living.
Once her Right to Remain was confirmed we were able to support her to apply for universal credit and she was able to buy a mobile phone which meant she could access the internet and search for jobs. She had also applied for a current account with a local building society but initially been rejected due to her lack of fixed abode (which is a common experience for many who are homeless). However we were able to advocate on her behalf, which resulted in an investigation leading to this decision being overturned, so she now has a working current account again.
We accompanied and supported her for an assessment with her Mental Health Social Worker and they found that her mental health had improved significantly since the previous summer when she had been hospitalised several times. They agreed she was fit to work and so we supported her to prepare a CV and start applying for jobs, which she was able to do from her accommodation using her mobile and the wifi of the B&B. We began searching for private rented accommodation, she wanted to stay in Canterbury where she has lived for the last seven years. During our house search a potential landlord who couldn’t offer a room but was highly empathetic to her situation gave us a lead on a cleaning job. We contacted their recommendation and she was offered work to start once she was living back in Canterbury. Within a week we had found a room in a shared house where she felt safe and welcome.
We successfully applied for a grant from the Vicar’s Relief Fund to help her pay her deposit and first months’ rent. Though happy to offer a room, the new landlord wanted ideally to
see a contract of employment first. We hurriedly arranged a trial shift at the cleaning company and provided transport to and from her first day in her new job. She worked hard and successfully secured a contract which we were able to show to the landlord and we helped her move in to her new home a few days later.
Things are slowly getting back on track and for the first time in a long time, she is starting to think about the future and building the life she hopes for. We have been supporting her to improve her English with a free online English Language course so that she will be able to apply for a variety of different roles in the future and we remain her first port of call if anything starts to go wrong.
Without the safety and stability of a room available to her 24/7, things might have turned out differently. The emergency winter provision has provided many of the homeless people we are supporting a safe place to rest, and also a base from which they can take the first steps towards recovery.
-written by Megan Johnson, Project Worker supporting clients in B&B’s