Published: 06:00, 16 November 2020
| Updated: 10:43, 18 November 2020
A council has said the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has offered a 'golden opportunity' to drastically improve the lives of people who are homeless.
During previous winters Thanet council has worked with local churches to provide rough sleepers with rolling accommodation for the night, sheltering them from the biting seasonal weather.
But this year the authority has secured a single premises which will remain open 24-hours a day, with 18 individual sleeping rooms and overspill for an additional 10 spaces.
While the council will not confirm where the premises is located, they say that it is based in the district.
With 17 rough sleepers verified by the homeless street teams, they believe they have enough provision this winter to help all people in Thanet currently sleeping on the streets.
Bob Porter, director of housing and planning at the council, said: "Having it in one location with some communal space means there can be some daytime support as well, and people don't have to leave the venue in the morning and come back in the evening.
"We think that gives us a real opportunity to do some much more intensive work with people and gives us a much greater prospect of being able to get them into permanent housing before the end of the project."
But he added: "The scale of the problem is massive, and even with all the different interventions we've put it, there's still lots to do."
RISE, which stands for rough sleeper intervention, support and empowerment, is the multi-agency team responsible for homelessness provision in the district.
The team, based at Thanet District Council, were awarded a team of the year prize at 2019's Kent Housing Group Excellence Awards, a year after the project was first launched.
The project is a partnership between the council, Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust and the Forward Trust, and also involves the Thanet Winter Shelter, Salvation Army and Paramount Independent Property Services.
Lauren Oates, project manager at the winter shelter, said: "The whole situation for Covid has been terrible for everybody involved, but actually as a result of the pandemic we do feel that we have golden opportunity this year to really engage with the guests because provision will be over a 24-hour period.
"So it feels like it's a good opportunity that's come out of a very bad situation.
"We're organising a range of meaningful and trauma-led activities, that are specific to our particular guests needs. That'll include literacy, numeracy, creative engagement as well.
"We feel by doing that not only we'll be building specifics skills, but also it will help to increase the self esteem and self believe of our guests and hopefully build trust in the services that operate, in order to help them to move onto the next stages. So we're really excited about being able to offer this for the first time."
With their ambitious winter plans ready to begin on November 23, Lauren hopes this will be something the multi-agency team can offer in future years too.
But the chance of that happening relies on robust funding from central government.
She said: "We certainly do have ambitions to be able to offer this kind of service again.
"Everything's underfunded and overstretched, so we do welcome financial donations however big or small, as well as food donations and suchlike to the Salvation Army in Ramsgate."
The provision for last year's winter shelter stood at around £40,000, with £30,000 put in by the council and a further £10,000 provided by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).
But this year MHCLG put in a further £96,000, alongside £30,000 from the authority.
With the the winter shelter project costing around £150,000 to run throughout the season, the agency are still short by roughly £24,000.
Jessica Bailey, rough sleeping project manager at RISE, said: "This year comes with quite a significant additional cost - the model last year was shared sleeping areas and free accommodation donated in terms of church halls and significant staffing from volunteers.
"Of course we can't rely on that now and we've got to reduce the number of bubbles that are interacting.
"We were successful in bidding for additional money from central government to some degree, but we didn't get quite as much as we felt we needed."
Boris Johnson announced a funding package last week following pressure from homeless charities calling for support similar to that provided during the first national lockdown.
But according to Jessica, the detail of the PM's announcement revealed most districts in need would not be able to apply for it, instead it is only being made available to 10 specific city locations like Manchester and Birmingham.
She said: "Despite the announcements around the £10m Cold Weather fund and the £15m Project Protect fund, most areas actually aren't eligible for the £15m Project Protect.
"We were actually quite disappointed when we had further detail around that late on Friday evening."
The team are hoping those who can will consider donating to help make up the shortfall in funding required to protect rough sleepers across the Isle this winter.
Jessica added: "This year I really feel we've got a really fantastic opportunity in all of the work that Lauren's been doing to ensure people are as tenancy-ready as the possibly can be, so that they can sustain and break the cycle of this ever happening again."
Cllr Helen Whitehead (Lab), deputy leader of the council and cabinet member for housing and community services, said: "I'm exceptionally pleased with how everyone has brought together the winter shelter project this year.
"I think it's a massive achievement that this is the year that we're offering a full 24-hour service. It's something that was needed and something that will be very beneficial throughout this period, enabling us to bring all of our services together so we're actually making a targeted difference to individuals.
She added: "I've lived here since I was eight, and there is something unique in Thanet about the way that we tend to step up as a community when support is needed.
"And I think the way the winter shelter has developed and the organisations that work alongside it is a perfect exemplar of that."