Justlife COVID-19 Update from Simon Gale, Chief Executive

Our work with people in temporary accommodation and the challenges we see ahead.

I hope everyone is staying safe and well during these unprecedented times. Justlife has remained open in Brighton and Manchester since the lockdown began, and although how we operate looks different, our vision to make everyone’s stay in temporary accommodation as short, safe and healthy as possible remains unchanged.

We know that temporary accommodation can be a really harsh environment, one that is often unclean, unpredictable and inadequate to be called a home, where people’s mental and physical health can really suffer. This reality has not changed for the over 50,000 households living in temporary accommodation across England during this time.

During COVID-19 of course we have had to adapt how we work, drop-in’s and group activities have had to stop and how we support people on a one-to-one basis to fit the needs of lockdown and social distancing has developed. I’m really proud of how the teams have faced the challenges, been guided by our values and not lost sight of our aim. As well as our projects working with people day in day out, we have also continued to learn from our work, sharing it and looking further afield to new challenges emerging for those living in temporary accommodation across England.

It’s been amazing to see local authorities up and down the country working quickly and providing all rough sleepers with hotel accommodation, as well as the many people who have become homeless during this crisis. Parking issues such as ‘local connection’ and ‘priority need’, two factors that often dictate if a local authority has a duty to house you, and ensuring everyone has a roof. Seeing charities, businesses and statutory services working together to find solutions has been inspiring.

Justlife have been proud to play our part. Food has been a big issue, either for those needing to self-isolate or shield, or those who usually rely on going to food banks or community meals to survive. We’ve worked with Brighton & Hove City Council and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to make sure over 450 people in temporary accommodation in these two cities have daily food and supplies for example.  

With the support of funders old and new we have been able to help people to ‘stay in’. We’ve distributed digital devices so people can get online, books and magazines to read, and art and craft resources to keep people busy. We’ve kept our frontline staff’s feet on the ground so they can respond in any way they can do while keeping themselves and those they support safe, with hours and hours of on the phone advice and a listening ear. We’ve also seen the way we work as a team revolutionise, embracing the use of technology, which is pulling us together during this crisis rather than driving us apart. I know we’ll exit COVID-19, whenever that may be, as a stronger and more resilient organisation.

There are still lots of challenges ahead. These include the number of accommodation units with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities making self-isolation and reducing spread of the virus very hard, the little-to-no information available to temporary accommodation providers on how to help their residents and the lack of funding for support services to actively engage with people and support their stay to be short safe and healthy.

We expect the numbers of people in temporary accommodation to keep going up, as local authorities do their best to not put people back out onto the streets when the crisis ends. And of course we celebrate that. This is a great opportunity in this country to do something about rough sleeping. But as we know, temporary accommodation isn’t the long term solution, and people remain homeless, all be it hidden and harder to help.

We are grateful for all our team and everyone’s support and opportunities to do what is needed for people in temporary accommodation at this time, for the chances to collaborate with others and get innovative, as we look to make peoples experience of temporary accommodation as short, safe and healthy as possible.