Covid restrictions mean big changes for the Thanet Winter Shelter this year

Rough sleeping in Thanet Photo Frank Leppard

A very different format will be in place when the Thanet Winter Shelter opens for its fifth year this month.

The scheme, run through a partnership including Thanet council, Serveco, the homelessness RISE team, local churches and groups such as the Salvation Army Ramsgate, has undergone changes due to Covid restrictions.

Instead of multiple church venues hosting rough sleepers overnight and for breakfast and evening meals with people required to leave during the day, accommodation will be in one district building which has separate bedrooms and shower facilities and will be open for clients 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Opening on November 23, there will be 18 bed spaces plus additional capacity if needed, and the 24-hour service means there can be the introduction of ‘trauma informed’ activities.

Thanet’s housing chief Bob Porter said: “This is available 24 hours a day. In previous years people had to leave the shelter in the morning and then go back, often to a different location, in the evening. But because this provision is all in one place it can be available all day so we can offer more support to people.”

Mr Porter says there are 17 verified rough sleepers in Thanet which means the single site has enough capacity.

Lauren Oates (left) pictured with fellow Lockdown 1 volunteer Helena Hulford

The service has a new manager this year with Broadstairs mum-of-three Lauren Oates stepping into the role.

Lauren, who volunteered during the first lockdown helping people in need across Broadstairs and St Peter’s, says the changes to the shelter mean “an opportunity to create something positive out of the nightmare of covid.”

The 41-year-old said: “Being open 24 hours means there is a real opportunity to engage in meaningful activities with a holistic aspect. We can help enable people to take the next steps and rebuild their lives.”

She said sessions could be art, literacy, life skills and more, adding: “It can really add value to time spent in the winter shelter.”

Lauren’s involvement with the Lighthouse Project, run by Changing Minds Kent, during the first lockdown reignited her passion for close community involvement. She is now hoping volunteers will join her.

She said: “The volunteers we need this year are a bit different but input from existing volunteers is welcome.

“We want people who can give that added value, art teachers, people from the creative industries, those who can deliver sessions in life skills; people with a trauma informed background who can engage with guests in a professional way.”

Ramsgate Salvation Army leader Carl Whitewood

Carl Whitewood, from the Ramsgate Salvation Army which is a lead partner in the scheme, says although the format is different this year, the aims remain the same.

He said: “While there is a lot that is different there is also a lot that needs to be the same.

“Go back four years and the churches got together saying it was not acceptable for people to be sleeping on the streets when we can do something about it. We had buildings, resources, volunteers to stop the obscenity of people dying on our streets, and so the winter shelter started.

“But it is also about providing hope. The partnership that was built, particularly with TDC, turned  providing accommodation into something life changing. There are people coming from having no vision to being in established accommodation, finding work and meaning, finding relationships and believing in themselves again.

“That isn’t going to change and this year we can do more than ever before.”

Any guests using the winter shelter will need to be verified as rough sleepers and referred to the service.

Jessica Bailey (left) with TDC colleague Penny Button

Rough sleeping project manager Jess Bailey said: “An important message this year is that people who have somewhere to stay, with friends or family, should do that. We need to reserve this for people who really have no other option. There is a verification process with the team, who are out every day and night of the year, seeing where people are bedded down and verifying that they are rough sleeping. The Housing Options team will help people who are homeless (ie sofa surfing) but not sleeping rough.”

But the extra measures this year come at a cost. Last year the shelter costs were in the region of £30,000. This year Thanet council made a bid to the government’s homelessness fund for £166,000. The authority received £96,000 and, with no allocation in the latest round of grants, that will need to be topped up.

Previous years meant the use of church halls, and often the provision of meals, was not charged for. This year, although the providers of the site and services are flexible, there are accommodation, utility, staff and other costs.

Mr Porter said: “This year we have the £96,000 from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and have topped that up with other grant funding, accommodation can be covered with housing benefit income. Costs are 5-6 times higher but what we are able to offer is 24 hours a day and individual rooms rather than shared space.”

Thanet council deputy leader Helen Whitehead, who has responsibility for housing, said: “Covid was very challenging but we have effectively ended up extending the provision, providing security during the day, stability, productive activities and will be a constant point of contact and a safe place 24 hours a day, which is a huge achievement. We all wanted 24 hour provision for a long time, it extends how RISE works, how we work with the community and agencies and means we can work together in one place.

“I am extraordinarily proud of everyone involved in this and really believe this year we can make a dramatic difference to people’s lives.”

Other homelessness schemes in Thanet

Separate initiatives in place to combat homelessness and those at risk include the newly converted Legion House in Margate which is run by Paramount Independent Property Services and has a mix of seven emergency bed spaces and rooms for  homeless households, and a community hub for Rise clients (Rough sleeper Intervention Support & Empowerment).

There are also plans for a HMO (House of Multiple Occupation) to be utilised and work is progressing on plans to convert Foy House, in Margate High Street, into flats, for households in need, particularly families. A planning application is in place and it is hoped work will start on the property next year for use in 2022.

Can you get involved?

Thanet Winter Shelter is appealing for people who can offer sessions, such as photography or book clubs, for their guests to get in touch. They ask that those who volunteer are not shielding so as to avoid putting anyone at risk.

They are also appealing for help donations of food, toiletries, bedding etc which can be left with Ramsgate’s Salvation Army.

There is a fundraising drive and an Amazon wish list.

The most important drive is for funds. Whilst Thanet District Council and the Ministry of Housing provide part-funding, the shelter relies heavily on fund-raising and donations from organisations and individuals in the local community, to raise the additional money required to keep the shelter running from November to March 31.

Find the justgiving page here 

Find out how to get involved at thanetwintershelter.org

Find the Thanet Winter Shelter on facebook here

Buy something specific for the shelter via the Amazon Wish List 

Donations of food or bedding are also gratefully received. Please see the website or contact the Salvation Army in Ramsgate

Alternatively cash or cheques can be given to TWS via The Salvation Army, 167 High Street, Ramsgate CT11 9TT and BACS details are available upon request.

Singing for the shelter

The Social Singing Choir is releasing a single -River by Joni Mitchell- this Christmas  with all the proceeds going to support the work of the shelter.

The group is opening its virtual choir to anyone who would like to add their voice to the single. There will be an online rehearsal this coming Tuesday at 8pm. Due to the deadline on mixing and mastering, recordings must be sent by next Friday.

Since the choir started it has partnered with lots of local charities to raise both funds and awareness within the local community. As members can no longer perform together they wanted to come up with a way to continue this work.

They hope the single will not just raise funds for the shelter but also be something fun that’s open to anyone who fancies a bit of a sing.

Find some details here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/qk25s6sddbporku/AABJ_r_cGx7i1YnG8SPqMA3ea?dl=0&fbclid=IwAR0PgcC57MScEggocIUFcJbGvrrNxYkbrnD4LbJVUqvU9a-OUDKgD1SiyR8

Or go to the Social Singing Choir facebook page here

The Isle of Thanet News will be donating £5 from every £30 ‘Christmas bauble’ advert taken out in our December print edition. For details email isleofthanetnews@gmail.com

Achieving life changing results

2018/19 TEAM: Jess (left) with RISE workers and volunteers

In 2019/20 the shelter had 79  referrals and 56 people actually stayed at the shelter.

Some 1803 nights bed spaces were occupied in a period of 130 nights

The Shelter was able to close 10 days early after housing 36 people in total, 4 in the last week thanks to a local landlord, Some 42 people were housed / moved on whilst the scheme was running.

Over the last four years the scheme has supported more than 150 guests

The team, winter shelter project and volunteers in Thanet leading the way back from homelessness