High Sheriff of West Sussex welcomes unexpected benefits for the homeless and rough sleepers since lockdown

High Sheriff of West Sussex Dr Tim Fooks, in his weekly briefing on projects in the county, takes a look at homelessness and rough sleeping, and explains how Covid-19 has, surprisingly, had a positive impact.

Tuesday, 5th May 2020, 8:02 am

Although the coronavirus pandemic continues to cause great difficulty to almost every part of our society in West Sussex, there is one group, those who have been sleeping rough, to whom the crisis has brought an unexpected but very welcome benefit.

In West Sussex, there are several hundred people who face severe problems with their housing. These are the vulnerable homeless, the ‘sofa surfers’, who can never be sure under which roof they will sleep tomorrow.

For them, the homelessness charities Crawley Open House, Turning Tides, based in Worthing, Stonepillow and the Four Street Project, based in Chichester, provide the essential support that they need.

Turning Tides outreach worker Bex Sowerby visiting Brian

However, there are some for whom the only place they have to live and sleep is a doorway or a makeshift shelter. They are known as rough sleepers and for most, their journey to a cardboard tent has been the result of difficulties with relationships, benefits, employment, mental health or even addiction.

For the vast majority, this way of life has not been by choice but it has become a trap from which it is very difficult to escape without help.

Last autumn, the government produced a ‘rough sleeping snapshot in England’. In our county, there were 126 people without a place to sleep in at night, half of whom were in Chichester or Crawley. More than 80 per cent of rough sleepers are men and about 10 per cent are under 25. For each man and woman, the homelessness charities and their teams of volunteers have provided food, health and social care.

But, with the arrival of the coronavirus lockdown and social distancing, much of this care had to stop. As a potential crisis loomed, a very rapid and combined effort between the local councils and charities ensured every rough sleeper could be offered a place to stay.

Food parcels being prepared at the Four Streets Project in Chichester

Donna Ockenden, of Four Streets, says: “We just wanted them to each have a door they could lock and a bed they could sleep in.”

Hilary Bartle, chief executive at Stonepillow, has been delighted with the speed with which the necessary accommodation was found. Hotels that had been closed due to Covid opened their doors and, across the county, the partnership between councils, charities, churches and food retailers has enabled every client to receive three meals a day and access to advice, health care and companionship, while complying with social distancing regulations.

Hilary is really hopeful that the Covid experience will encourage some to take a step back into society.

However, there are still a few who are sleeping outside and the Crawley Open House Day Centre is open on a limited basis so they can collect food and receive care.

A gathering at Crawley Open House, before lockdown

And at Turning Tides, which covers much of the eastern half of the county, outreach workers such as Bex Sowerby continue to bring food and medicines to clients such as Brian, who has decided to maintain social distancing, with his cat Lily, in a tent.

During the crisis, it is a daunting task to maintain the funds each charity needs and Turning Tides has just launched its own emergency appeal.

Meanwhile, StonePillow is encouraging local residents to take part in its Little Big Sleep Out at Home fundraising event on May 16 and Crawley Open House is asking us to participate in the 2.6 Challenge.

I have been greatly impressed by the compassion and care that is being shown to these vulnerable men and women. And I share with each of the charities and councils the hope that the practical support they have put in place so quickly will help many to avoid returning to the street once the lockdown eventually comes to an end.

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