Just before lockdown began – at one of my regular catch ups with local Councillors – I was made aware of a number of people homeless in York – currently living in our city’s homeless hostels who had no issues with drugs, alcohol or mental health. This is a challenging environment for these individuals, and I set out about finding a way to secure private, temporary accommodation for them. The race was on, as I knew an impending lockdown would make movement challenging.
My first conversation was with the Salvation Army, who had a list of local people who had – through no fault of their own, and generally just bad luck – fallen upon hard times and found themselves with nowhere to live. We identified one married couple and three individuals. All were capable of living independently, had a work history, no dependencies on drugs or alcohol, and no history of disturbance. The perfect tenant!
However, all of these people were ‘on a losing streak’ – having lost their jobs, suffered relationship breakdowns, or just experienced cold-hearted landlords cashing in on their assets. The married couple in particular, having spent a lifetime working long and tiring shifts, found themselves sleeping in a tent by the river in 2019 as their landlord sold their home.
Despite not knowing these individuals, or having any connections to the Salvation Army, it really reminded me of my times working in prisons where I would speak to young men and women who were on this ‘losing streak’ and felt trapped and hopeless. It also really brings back to the fore that oft-quoted line: ‘you’re only ever two pay packets from the streets‘, and Shelter add that one in three working families are only one paycheck away from losing their homes.
Sadly, I discovered during my enquiries that one national holiday accommodation supplier is currently charging City of York Council £50/night to house our homeless people during the current crisis. So, in true Social Vision style, I set about finding a way to use the goodwill, generosity and selflessness of my local networks to find a solution.
Armed with the stories of these individuals, I reached out to local property developer North Star, to see if they had any properties available, short term, in which we could house these people, get them out of the hostels and help get them back on their feet.
As local York residents, North Star jumped at the opportunity, and made available seven empty properties in and around the city centre. Some of them were recently vacated homes – fully furnished and ready to move into. Others were awaiting redevelopment, and so needed a little TLC, but were safe, dry and warm. All of the tenancies and individuals would be managed and supported by the excellent Charlie at Salvation Army.
It was an amazing feeling to facilitate this. I’ve since heard that the couple are very settled, starting to rebuild and plan for life post-covid, and grateful for the support of Salvation Army, Social Vision and North Star.
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