Homelessness workers 'almost at point of collapse'

St Martins is set to lose out on thousands of pounds after being forced to cancel its annual Christmas collection.

St Martins' frontline workers have been working flat out to support homeless people and other at risk of losing their homes since the pandemic began. - Credit: Supplied by St Martins

As part of a special series, Daniel Moxon looks at how efforts to support the homeless in Norwich have fared during the pandemic.

Those working on the front lines to support the city's homeless are "absolutely exhausted" after an intense year, according to one of the bosses overseeing the fight.

Dr Jan Sheldon, chief executive of St Martins, said it had been "a year like no other" for the charity's staff, after answering the government's 'Everybody In' call as the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Supporting Norwich City Council and the other Pathway partners, St Martins helped to get more than 100 people off the streets in Norwich within a 48-hour period last March.

The charity's frontline workers have been working hard ever since to support those people throughout the pandemic, catering for their needs during a difficult time.

And the extra cleaning protocols staff have needed to implement and follow have placed an even larger burden on those who have "always gone the extra mile".

Dr Sheldon said: "Our staff are exhausted, particularly our frontline workers.

Most Read

"Their job is challenging enough as it is, but then you throw in all the extra cleaning – because we’ve really majored on infection prevention – and the reinforcing of the hands, face, space message with people we support.

"The people we support are some of the most complex and vulnerable people, and their first priority isn’t always around their own safety or other people’s safety. We've had to work incredibly hard on that."

Dr Jan Sheldon, right, chief executive of St Martins, and the Dean of Norwich, the Very Rev Jane Hed

Dr Jan Sheldon, right, chief executive of St Martins, and the Dean of Norwich, the Very Rev Jane Hedges, left, with the collecting bucket, as Tesco at Harford Bridge allowed the charity to collect in their store. With them from Tesco are Christina Martin, community champion, and Charla Scarff, services manager. - Credit: Denise Bradley

But all that hard work has been worth it, as so far they have managed to buck a trend seen in other areas of the country.

So far, there have been no Covid-19 outbreaks among staff or clients at any of St Martins' centres – a record of which Dr Sheldon is extremely proud.

She added: "When this first happened my main worry was that we’d lose people we care for and lose staff, and that it was going to be a nightmare. Talking to other CEOs up and down the country, that has happened to them and they have had the most terrible time.

"Geography plays a part, but the way our team has worked tirelessly on the front lines on infection prevention has made all the difference."

Specialist support given to people by St Martins staff has seen 89pc of those given shelter during the pandemic move on to their own permanent, secure accommodation.

The future

The coronavirus outbreak in the UK created enough political will and saw funding diverted to get a big majority of the nation's homeless off the streets, but there is a long way to go before rough sleeping is completely eradicated.

That is the view of Dr Sheldon, chief executive of St Martins, which works with homeless people in Norwich to support them into secure, permanent accommodation.

A homeless person near Westminster Cathedral as an independent study published by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree...

'There will always be a few people who have entrenched rough sleeping habits and it is going to be really hard to get them into accommodation,' said Dr Jan Sheldon of Norwich-based St Martins. - Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

She said: "If Covid has done one good thing, it’s kind of achieved the impossible. If you look back over Labour and Conservative manifestos they talk about ending rough sleeping, but on March 23 with the ‘Everybody In’ call, it happened literally within 48 hours.

"No one single thing is going to end homelessness. There has to be a mixture of political will, sufficient funding and strong local partnerships. It’s like a three-legged stool – if you’ve got those three things then you can move forward.

"We had some political will but it wasn’t strong enough – we had some funding but it wasn’t sufficient, and we’ve always had strong local partnerships. But we never had all three aspects until Covid hit."

Sasha's story

Sasha is a St Martins volunteer after being helped by the charity herself in the past.

Sasha is a St Martins volunteer after being helped by the charity herself in the past. - Credit: St Martins

One of those staff members is Sasha, who now volunteers for St Martins after being helped by the charity herself.

She suffers from depression, anxiety and PTSD, and was already used to living a life of isolation long before Covid-19 hit.

After being encouraged by support worker Angie to visit the Under 1 Roof learning and development centre, Sasha began taking part in regular art, music and mindfulness sessions, as well as one-on-one counselling.

In her own words, she "fitted in like the furniture", and now volunteers three days per week.

She said: "It’s funny how I became a volunteer. The phone at the reception desk rang, there was no-one there because they were busy doing something so I answered it. Then I did it again.

"I enjoy being here. This place has helped me a lot. It has introduced me to new people and given me a reason to get up in the morning."

Sasha has now completed a childcare qualification and admitted: "I've changed a whole lot."

More in this series

– How Norwich's homeless have been helped during coronavirus

– Norfolk's homeless encouraged to get vaccine despite no JCVI prioritisation

– Norwich homeless service fears 'tsunami' when Covid's economic toll hits

– At least five homeless people died in Norfolk in 2020

– Big Issue seller on how lockdown pushed him closer to homelessness

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter
Comments powered by Disqus