Heroes striving to keep rough sleepers safe during pandemic

published on 12 Jan 2021

The Salvation Army’s York homelessness team is supporting rough sleepers on the streets to stay safe during the pandemic by continuing their daily early morning checks on wellbeing.

The Early Intervention and Prevention Hub (EIP Hub) on Lawrence Street has remained open and staff are carrying out street walks as early as 4.30 am to help spot and move people sleeping on the streets swiftly to safe accommodation.

Programme co-ordinator for the Hub Sarah Pirie said: “Early every morning our service manager Charlie Malarkey has been scouring the streets to make sure no one is sleeping outside. Charlie has been a superhero, going beyond what has been required to ensure people are safe. He’s even been taking longer routes to walk home after work to make sure no one has been missed out.

“We were determined that no one would be left out on the streets and have been helping them to take up emergency accommodation. We’ve found that most of those who were rough sleeping have been engaging well with mental health support and drug and alcohol services.”

I would’ve done… anything to be safe and that’s what The Salvation Army made me feel. I can’t thank them enough.

For Jack*, 42, this support has been life-saving. Attending a court hearing before Christmas and fully expecting to be imprisoned that day, Jack was at a loss when his case adjourned until the new year and he was released. With nowhere to go, he prepared to bed down outdoors for the first time in his life, in a bus shelter near the city’s station on Christmas Eve.

“I was woken by Charlie on Christmas morning,” he said. “If it wasn’t for him I would’ve had no choice but to commit a crime to survive but he helped me find the right way to get help. I didn’t realise that help was available!”

With Charlie’s help, Jack found emergency accommodation through Changing Lives and has engaged with keyworkers and the Probation Service during his stay.

He said: “Without The Salvation Army, undoubtedly I would’ve done something stupid and ended up in custody. I would’ve done something really stupid – anything to be safe and that’s what The Salvation Army made me feel. I can’t thank them enough.”

The York EIP team is also working closely with local food providers to co-ordinate deliveries to people already in emergency accommodation and visits to provide one-to-one help.

Charlie said: “We all worked together utilising hotels that were prepared to take our clients no matter how chaotic, as we were ‘on call’ 24/7 to help. Sometimes we had to be called out to deal with difficult situations, and as we were there to support the hotel staff, this kept them on board.

“We also utilised Airbnb and supported families financially to keep people in their accommodation. We also approached the council about older temporary accommodation that was due for demolition and this was opened up to support our clients.”

York EIP Hub has been one of the few services in the city that has been operating face to face for people from the start of the pandemic. Drop-ins continued by appointment only with shorter time slots available, enabling staff to keep the site Covid-safe as well as making sure vital help was available to those who needed it.

North Yorkshire Police have been working closely with the York team so that no one has to experience a second night out. After Charlie’s wellbeing walks he updates the police with what has been offered and to whom to ensure anyone found overnight is flagged to the team for the next early morning check so that rough-sleepers receive the assistance they need.

Sarah said: “It’s more important than ever that people who are at risk of respiratory illnesses from sleeping in the severe weather outdoors are housed and protected from coronavirus.

“There were about 50 people in hotels and emergency accommodation at the start of the pandemic that have moved on successfully into more permanent accommodation or to family and friends.”

*Jack’s name has been changed to protect his identity.
A rough sleeper receives hot food and drink

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