We’ve all walked past that homeless person on the street but what happens when the Government announces in the daily Coronavirus briefing that councils have a new duty – to house all their rough sleepers and make them safe – in just 48 hours
West Midlands Employers caught up with Ross Webber, who works helping rough sleepers for Worcester City Council, to find out more.
Q Tell me about yourself and what got you into this role?
Since the lockdown I’ve been working out of a makeshift office at home. It’s hectic as I’ve got two kids aged nine and six. My wife is also working from home, she’s a teacher so a real help when it comes to the home education.
I work for the charity, Caring for Communities and People (CCP), who provide the homeless service to councils, including Worcester City and absolutely love what I do. It’s anything but nine to five, extremely challenging, but can be really rewarding too, especially when I help turn someone’s life around for the better.
I left a stable job as a store manager for Virgin Megastore to come to CCP. I’d had jobs in customer services at a builders yard and pushing trolleys at a supermarket in the past. I was looking for something more meaningful and spotted a three-month contract for someone with management and budget experience at CCP so I leapt at the chance – even though it was temporary and a pay cut. That was four years ago and I’m still here.
Q What do CCP do?
CCP helps homeless people or people at risk of becoming homeless. My team offer debt and benefit advice, we help people at risk of losing their tenancy or who are sofa surfing with friends. During the winter we run SWEP – the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol – to make sure people sleeping rough literally don’t freeze to death on the streets and find them places to go.
Q So how many people in Worcestershire are sleeping rough?
In Worcestershire we estimated there were around 100 people that we needed to rehouse to make sure that they are safe through the Covid-crisis. Most of these are in Worcester city, with around 65 to 70 people between 18 years old right up to people in their 80s.
Q What normally happens to rough sleepers?
Before the crisis we used a number of churches, Salvation Army buildings and St Paul’s hostel, where people could go to get off the streets. The trouble with these place is that people were sleeping very close together and sharing facilities and toilets, making social distancing and isolation impossible.
Q What did you do to make rough sleepers safe and able to isolate?
We already had the Worcester Cares forum in place bringing the key people together from agencies and the council. Together we came up with the solution and identified two places that would be suitable to house rough sleepers, a hotel in the city centre and a previous care home in Ombersley and worked with various soup kitchens to deliver food.
We kept our support workers on, Nick and Oleg, who usually work only in the winter months to get people off the streets to provide extra support through the Covid crisis.
Some of our homeless community have been really happy to receive the help. When being moved into the hotel one middle aged man said, “This is the best thing that’s ever happened me. It is the first time I have had a roof over my head years.”
Q What’s been the learning for you from the Covid crisis?
Well it shows that if the Government decides it wants us to do something and gives councils sufficient money to do it, then we will achieve it.
We were asked to make rough sleepers safe and get them off the streets and that is exactly what we’ve done, with the help of the hotel and the care home.
But solving homelessness isn’t simply about the money or even having the right accommodation. People often find themselves homeless because of extremely complex problems and difficult social backgrounds, they are often dependent on drugs and/or alcohol, they can be violent, they often distrust authority and they certainly don’t respect social distancing rules. All these things make this an incredibly difficult people to try and make safe at this time.
Q What challenges have you had?
Getting PPE (Personal protective equipment) initially was really difficult. We’ve got people working on the frontline talking day-to-day with people on the streets so they needed that protection. I understood that the NHS had to take priority but I’m really glad that we’ve managed to get supplies to keep our own staff safe.
Q So what do you do to relax?
I love music. I run a disco business doing gigs in primary schools and that’s really kept me going. Whilst all gigs have been postponed with the pandemic music is still my escape. My small “study’ is just about big enough to squeeze a desk into around all the kids old toys so when I come out I can switch off and join in family life.
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