Meet Stephen Philpott. Just two months in to a six month contract for Birmingham City Council leading on rough sleepers, then Lockdown starts and the Government instruction to councils follows: get everyone in and off the streets and keep them safe. You have 48 hours to do this. The previous Government strategy was to end rough sleeping by 2024.
This is a guy who takes his work very seriously
Stephen’s thirty year career has always been about helping the homeless. Starting in Los Angeles on Skid Row in a homeless shelter, then at a night shelter in Birmingham before working for Shelter – the UK’s best known homeless charity. His last job was advisor to the Mayor of West Midlands on the Homeless Task Force.
This is a guy who takes his work very seriously. On Friday night at 1am he was out walking the streets of Birmingham looking for anyone remaining on the streets.
Part of the solution Birmingham came up with, like many councils, has been to get people into city centre hotels during the lockdown, securing the capacity for 77. Most people have been willing to be helped, having seen their “income” from the street with the usually generous passers by virtually disappear since lockdown. Many homeless people are in poor health with a life expectancy of just 45 and really fear the Virus. And why not take the opportunity to get off the street with the promise of a decent bed for the night, food delivered and decent washing facilities – luxury compared to life on the streets.
Domestic violence and child abuse and neglect will increase during lockdown
For a city with a million people official rough sleeper figures are low, with ‘only’ 52 people being recorded in the 2019 last official count. Birmingham has been proactive says Stephen, with a 75% reduction in recent years. But while figures may seem small, Stephen adds, “it’s not just about the people that find themselves homeless, we have thousands of people living in temporary and unsuitable accommodation. Yes they may be safer than on the streets but domestic violence and child abuse and neglect will increase during lockdown, on top of mental health issues, poor health and drug and alcohol addiction. I really fear that lockdown will hurt people in many other sad ways.”
In Birmingham all the agencies like city wardens, the Police and Charities have worked together to get people into hotels and other accommodation. Now the streets are empty it’s easier to spot the homeless. And new people are coming onto the streets everyday, whether that’s through eviction or though being kicked out of accommodation where someone needs to self isolate.
We need to be better at prevention, helping people becoming homeless
What Stephen wants to see is some real long-term solutions for rough sleepers and homelessness. “There’s a lack of access to affordable housing. It’s just not there. We need to be better at prevention too, helping people from becoming homeless in the first place. Secure income, good mental and physical health, supportive relationships – those are the factors that guard against homelessness.”
Many are working from home but not Stephen, he and many others in this sector are very much on the frontline, still out working to ensure that for each individual there’s a shared plan on how life will move on after Covid 19.
When he’s not working he’s enjoying home life, dad to five, from 14 to 23 years old, with three under lockdown being educated at home – fortunately being overseen by his wife a secondary maths teacher.
“What keeps me sane are bike rides around the hills where I live, it keeps me grounded. But actually I just want to keep the momentum going and press on at pace. The lockdown as given us the go ahead to make things happen far quicker than otherwise.”
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