Liverpool ‘proves’ homelessness can be tackled in crisis

Just over three weeks ago Liverpool's homeless and rough sleepers were moved into accommodation to help reduce the spread of coronavirus.

The measures saw Liverpool City Council's rough sleeper shelter Labre House shut its doors, with people who were previously sharing communal spaces and bathrooms transferred to places with separate facilities, including into apart-hotels, in order to enable them to self-isolate if necessary.

Meanwhile, outreach teams continued to go out into the city centre to encourage rough sleepers to come inside and to provide them with the appropriate medial support if needed.

Within days, councils across the country also followed suit, after a letter sent out by the government, urged all local authorities to house rough sleepers by the end of the week.

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This was hugely welcome news for those suffering on the streets and to the organisations and campaigners who work tirelessly to fight homelessness all year round.

To find out just how much of an impact these measures have had since they were imposed and what it could mean for our city's homeless when the lockdown restrictions are lifted, we spoke to homeless campaigner Michelle Langan and to Liverpool City Council.

A homeless man on the streets in Liverpool city centre

"He was made up to have a bed, a shower and a TV that he can watch films on"

As the founder of the Paper Cup Project, a homeless charity in Liverpool, Michelle Langan understands more than most the kind of support that rough sleepers and the homeless need.

Since the city council announced the plans in March, Michelle and her team have persuaded a rough sleeper who they have been working with for years to move into the self-contained accommodation provided.

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Michelle Langan runs the Papercup Project which works to support homeless people and rough sleepers in Liverpool

She told the ECHO: "We've been working with him for a long time now, trying to get him to engage with services and to break down barriers to get to a point where he will engage with us.

"We've tried to get him into accommodation before but it didn't work out, it was too much for him to deal with.

"But we've managed to get him inside somewhere now."

Michelle said: "He was made up when I took him down there that he's got a bed to sleep in and a shower and TV that he can watch films on, it's a big thing when you've lived on the streets.

"We're hoping that within a few weeks of him being inside he'll get used to that way of living and he'll open up more to getting help."

"When you walk around the city centre so many people are inside now"

Liverpool City centre on a Bank Holiday weekend, during the lockdown because of the Coronavirus.

When you walk around Liverpool City Centre, Michelle said "it's fantastic to see that so many people are inside accommodation", with only a small number of people, many of whom she says are choosing to stay out on the streets.

She said: "It's definitely only a small number of people who are still out on the streets. I've been finding that most of the people who are still out have accommodation but they are still choosing to stay outside.

"Some of these people have addictions and they've got to manage these addictions with no access to anything which makes it very difficult.

"On our last outreach a few weeks ago, we only saw seven people outside when we would usually see around 30 people.

"Out of those seven only two people refused to engage, the rest were happy to go inside."

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Michelle added: "We tried to persuade the other two, to make them understand the reasons why and that there was a place for them to rest if they needed it but they weren't interested.

"It is frustrating when you want to get people inside to stay safe but it's only a small number of people not engaging."

"It proves that homelessness can be tackled"

Homeless persons tent on North John Street.(Pic Andrew Teebay).

Like many people, Michelle is uncertain about what will happen when the lockdown is lifted and whether rough sleepers will return to the streets.

She said: "I'm hopeful that this will give people more of an opportunity to engage and the chance to move into permanent accommodation when this is over.

"It proves that homelessness can be tackled by saying to local councils this is what you have to do.

"The council offices were working really hard four weeks ago to secure the right accommodation for people which is self contained which gives them the message to stay inside.

"I think it's unfair to put the whole burden onto local councils when they are already struggling and have had their budgets cut. The support has to come from the government really."

Michelle said: "I think the most important thing is to carry on giving people support.

"There are so many things to think about which we take for granted, like paying bills, setting up a bank account and buying food, whereas if you've been homeless they can seem like big things to do.

"It's not just about giving people a house, it's about giving them the help and support that they need."

Homeless people on Lord Street in Liverpool

What has the response been to the measures imposed by Liverpool City Council?

Liverpool City Council confirmed to the ECHO that 130 homeless households have been moved into a range of accommodation options as part of their response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The majority of these households were service users who were already accessing Labre House.

The council said outreach work is continuing to operate in the city to target the small number of rough sleepers – which currently stands at six people – who are still outdoors.

This outreach work aims to encourage these individuals to come inside or to return to the accommodation they have available to them.

The different accommodation options the council is providing is dependant upon the needs of service users.

A spokesperson from the council said: "People with low support needs are accessing shared houses with visiting support; some in good quality hotel accommodation; others in our commissioned temporary accommodation.

"The majority of service users from Labre Hosue are being accommodated in an apart-hotel with support on-site.

"Everyone has access to support. The apart-hotel has staff on site 24/7 supporting service users to settle into their accommodation, access welfare benefits, provide food, support re substance misuse etc.

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"We are also getting a lot of support from colleagues in the health sector."

A council spokesperson added: "It’s far too early to say anything definitive about long term plans at present.

"The council is looking at options and will continually review them as and when the current situation changes."

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