At Citizen, we had been planning the use of an empty retirement living scheme as temporary accommodation for homeless families with children for some time. We would provide accommodation for families with our local authority partner, Coventry City Council, until permanent homes could be found. This was developing nicely and nearing completion, ready for the first families to move in during March 2020.
Then we received the call – are you able to provide accommodation for rough sleepers as part of Everyone In?
It wasn’t a very long conversation and we all agreed this was the right thing to do. We recognised we were in for a hectic, intensive period as we had geared the service to receive families with young children, not single rough sleepers. This meant we had 44 self-contained flats prepared with furniture and white goods for a very different client group.
Cots and bunk beds were swiftly removed and single beds with protective mattresses and high-grade flame-resistant bedding sourced. Our suppliers rallied and supported us quickly and efficiently. The wider teams involved went above and beyond throughout this period, nothing was too much trouble.
The team on site mobilised rapidly and worked with the council’s outreach team to let all 44 units to single rough sleepers within 10 days of the request.
A number of residents had quite complex support needs with a history of substance and alcohol misuse. There were also people who had no access to public funds, so we agreed a process with the council where it would meet the accommodation charges directly. The remaining residents were able to access Universal Credit, supported by our on-site team.
Simple things became quite complex, like access to meals and food, as the flats were originally equipped for families to cook and prepare meals themselves. But by working closely with the council, we were able to make appropriate adjustments. We accessed a supply of food and one meal a day was delivered to each resident. We quickly adapted the cooking facilities, switching from cookers to microwaves. Communal areas were restricted due to our ‘safe systems of work’ in operation and the new outside play area for children was closed.
This swift turnaround worked because of the fantastic team on site led by Gail Cooper, our Service Manager, who worked closely with city council colleagues and immersed themselves in the project.
The 44 flats are now being used for their original purpose to accommodate families with children, while the previous group were all rehoused elsewhere by the council and in some instances by us offering permanent, alternative accommodation.
While I wouldn’t want to receive a request like this every week, what this intense period showed is when we work together there really is nothing we as a sector can’t achieve.