Lockdown – How Life Changed for SSJ

Covid-19, A true community partnership

On 23rd March 2020, life changed immeasurably in the UK as it had been doing and would continue to do so across the rest of the world. For those living on the street or without a secure place to live, this was a frightening and confusing time. The people of Portsmouth however were not slow to respond.

Within days The Society of St James had opened a house in Portsmouth to ensure 10 vulnerable and homeless adults who needed shielding could be shielded. Mike Taylor, SSJ Ops Director says “some were crying with relief because they finally felt safe.”

Only 7 days later and through the relentless and selfless work of frontline local authority, voluntary sector and private business staff the first hotel welcomed 118 homeless people and all 118 were given a health check at the point of check-in.

Within weeks, a second hotel was opened taking the total number of available bed spaces to 218. Today there are 188 residents who are homeless. Many of the residents were regular visitors to the City’s Homeless Day Service and many to the night shelters but some were previously unknown to services. These previously unknowns were sleeping on friends sofas or had lost their jobs and tenancies due to Covid-19 and as a result would have been street homeless if not for the hotels and houses made available.

It is evident talking to staff that they are very proud of what all those involved have accomplished together. Anna Jackson, SSJ Portsmouth Services Manager says “I just feel so proud to be part of this amazing community and partnership effort. All organisations have worked together and it’s been a real pleasure to work alongside Two Saints to provide this vital support in both hotels; so much is being learnt by all of us. I would just like to say a massive thank you to everyone who has given their time and support to make this possible.”

There is a level of routine now in the hotels as volunteers, support staff, security staff, health teams and the local community work hand in hand to take care of the immediate needs of the vulnerable adults in the hotel. Moments of kindness regularly bring a tear to those working there; only last week meals cooked by the community arrived with messages of hope written across the top of each food carton.

Residents each have their own room and are delivered 3 nutritious meals a day by local volunteers, they are given support to access healthcare, substance misuse advice, benefits and prescriptions and discussions about onward support needs are starting to happen. Nevertheless, residents are concerned about what happens to them next, once social distancing eases.

Life within the hotel has not necessarily been a picture of calm and to some extent has mirrored the chaotic lifestyles of those that would have been living on the streets. There have been a small handful of evictions from the hotel but in the main the residents have been extremely grateful to be in warm and safe accommodation and have shown great commitment to social distancing. It is a credit to all involved that to date there have been no confirmed cases of Coronavirus amongst this community though one or two have been advised to self-isolate.