Former rough sleepers celebrate first Christmas in new flats
published on 22 Dec 2021
For many rough sleepers last Christmas was a time of uncertainty and isolation spent in hotel rooms as the nation grappled with Covid-19.
During the pandemic, the government’s 'Everyone In' campaign housed 37,000 people who would otherwise have been sleeping on the streets.
In St Helens, Merseyside, there was a concerted effort to build on the achievements of ‘Everyone in’ with the redevelopment of two apartment blocks into 28 new homes for people moving on from The Salvation Army’s Salisbury House lifehouse, which provides supported accommodation for up to 58 homeless men and women, and the YMCA St Helens Hostel.
Champions Court in Appleton Road was redeveloped by housing provider Torus Housing, supported by St Helens Council and funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s Rough Sleeping Accommodation Programme.
The Salvation Army provides 24-hour support to residents, helping people to continue to overcome the complex reasons for their homelessness, like mental ill health, fleeing domestic violence, relationship breakdown, childhood trauma or addiction.
Now the residents are looking forward to spending their first Christmas in their new homes.
Saeid Jamali, support worker at Champions Court, said: “Last Christmas a lot of our residents would have been on the streets, in a hotel or in a hostel. Now they have their own home. They are nice flats, it’s a safe and warm environment and it will make a massive difference to them. I can see in their faces since they’ve moved in there’s a big change in how they feel.
“They can celebrate Christmas, cook their own food and be with their families, friends, on their own or with their pets. Being able to invite people over makes a big difference.
“A lot of residents have started to reconnect with family after being distanced from them. When you are sleeping rough, you lose a lot of the good things in your life. When you’re finding life hard to manage, and you have nowhere to live, how can you invite friends and family over? The residents are taking opportunities to rebuild, there is a great energy and positivity at Champions Court.
“We want to bring this happiness into their life in any way we can. We will have a Christmas meal in the community space in the apartments. I have linked up with a local church and foodbank, who have offered to provide food."
One resident, Anthony, 45, lost his home after his benefits were sanctioned. He spent three years sofa surfing before moving into The Salvation Army’s Salisbury House Lifehouse. Anthony is now living in Champions Court with his dog Jack Russell cross Harley, and continues to be supported by Saeid.
Anthony said: “When I walked through the door, I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy, I don’t know who was happier - me or the dog – we both love it. It’s a good size one-bedroom flat with a comfy bed, kitchen, living room, all the white goods were provided. I know there is someone in the office if I have problems, there’s always someone available.
“I’m optimistic about the future now. Before, when I lost my flat and stayed at my friend’s, I spent three years sat in my bedroom ignoring the world. I didn’t get much done and now I’m starting to get confidence back in myself and to go out and talk to people. I never really talked to people before, but we have got a community here.
“I wouldn’t be in a good place without the help of The Salvation Army. I was not feeling good at all when I was made homeless and hadn’t seen my dog, but luckily things are better now. I’m really looking forward to being able so spend Christmas in a place I can call home.”
Robert Long, regional manager for Homelessness Services in the North West Region, said: “These flats are for people who have been homeless and are now ready to make that next step to independence. By providing them with a safe and warm place to stay, with the support they need for up to two years, they will be in a good position to then move into independent housing.
“By freeing up spaces in supported accommodation like Salisbury House and the YMCA Hostel, we can help more people off the streets and get them the support they need to tackle the root causes of homelessness.”
The funding will cover one full-time support worker, two part-time assistant support workers and two night workers.
Robert added: “A key job of the on-site support workers will be helping people find permanent accommodation. They will also have help with applying for training and work, and support with any addiction or mental health needs, but it will be more ‘light touch’ than it is in a Lifehouse.”
Torus Chief Executive, Steve Coffey, said: “It was also important for us to provide the best standard of accommodation possible to give the new residents a home to be proud of and the contractor, HMS have certainly gone above and beyond to do just that.
“The pandemic has highlighted real inequalities across the region, and we are determined to ensure that no one is left behind. One of our driving priorities is to invest in and grow stronger communities, and providing people with a safe and secure place to call home has never been more important.”