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Hub volunteers feed Islington’s virus-crisis homeless

Grassroots groups set up base inside community centre to help rough sleepers

03 April, 2020 — By Sam Ferguson

Volunteers – following social-distancing rules – outside the new hub at Cummings Community Centre

GRASSROOTS organisations have set up a taskforce hub inside an Islington community centre to help feed rough sleepers during the coronavirus crisis.

Streets Kitchen and the Museum of Homelessness have joined forces with Islington and Camden councils to take over the Popham and Cummings Community Centre in Popham Street.

From there, they are preparing food packages to be given to the homeless who are now using self-contained accommodation offered up by the neighbouring local authorities.

Museum of Homelessness co-founder Jess Turtle said they had been overwhelmed by the number of people offering to help.

Matt Turtle, from the Museum of Homelessness, putting together food packages for rough sleepers

“It’s early days but we’re setting up the structure so we can run the hub sustainably and safely for as long as it’s needed. One of our volunteers has eight years of experience in international aid, setting up systems for serious emergencies,” she said. “We want this to be a model of good practice over the next few months.

“Right now we’re waiting on equipment and supplies. It’s the beginning but it’s going really well.”

Islington’s housing chief, Labour councillor Diarmaid Ward, is heading up the borough’s homelessness coronavirus response, and said the hub was indicative of the great work done by grassroots groups in the area.

“They’re aiming to feed basically anyone who had been on the streets but has now been put in self-contained accommodation,” he said. “That’s absolutely brilliant, and a testament to what we can do when we pull together.”

Responding to a government call to councils to get all rough sleepers off the streets by last weekend, Cllr Ward said it was not as simple as that. He also said it was hard to tell exactly how many people were sleeping rough during the crisis, as more and more people are finding themselves without a home.

Cllr Ward added: “The sentiment of the government was absolutely right, but the situation on the streets and for councils means it just isn’t as simple or as straightforward as that to ‘get people in’, especially after 10 years of Tory austerity.

“The number of people sleeping on the streets is not a static number any more. But in this situation lots and lots of people are finding themselves homeless. Lots of hidden homeless, who have been sofa-surfing, for example, find that because people are in lockdown that is just not an option anymore.

John Glackin from the Streets Kitchen group

“Or people who have somewhere to sleep in a travel hostel, where they pay for a bed from their weekly pay which has disappeared as casual jobs go. There are also people who in this very difficult time become homeless due to domestic violence and different factors like that.

“In the current situation the council can count on grassroots organisations, and they have really come into their own.”

Meanwhile, the Outside Project, which supports people at risk of becoming homeless from the LGBTQI+ community, has unveiled plans to take over a YHA hostel with support from the council.

The Outside Project will manage the support team at the hostel, located within the borough, and provide temporary, self-contained accommodation for LGBT people at risk of violence or homelessness during the current crisis.

The council will refer people in need of accommodation to the other half of the hostel, and both organisations will share the costs.

“It’s going to be a safe space for LGBT people, who may face violence or homelessness during this crisis,” explained Outside Project founder Carla Ecola.

“We’re working with Islington Council to support people who they will refer into the hostel as well.

“We got in touch with the YHA when we saw that hostels were becoming an option.

“We realised if we wanted to create a provision for LGBT people we would have to do find a building ourselves. The YHA have been really great, and have supported us by providing a space.

“Islington Council was looking for more temporary accommodation.

“We asked them to come in and use half of this hostel and then we could work together to cover the costs. It’s worked out really well.

“We have a good relationship with the council and this was an obvious step to take.”

The Outside Project is fundraising to cover its costs at the hostel. To donate, visit https://t.co/D1CA8CQPQ6

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