Homeless and frightened: The charity helping those who have no home to quarantine in

Where do the homeless go during a pandemic? Well, it’s a more complicated question to answer than you may think. Social distancing measures mean that people cannot stay in public space like they might usually, and while the government has launched initiatives to temporarily house the homeless, some people have taken longer to house than others, while some simply don’t fit the bill. All People All Places is a Tottenham-based charity that’s working hard to home those who’ve slipped through the cracks.

When the Covid-19 crisis hit, the incredible people running the charity took over a former care home and transformed it into a temporary haven for rough sleepers in need. Supported by a fund from Haringey Giving’s Covid-19 Appeal, the charity transformed the space and invited 30 homeless people to move in, where they’ve received private rooms to quarantine in, hot meals and fresh laundry, emotional and medical support, entertainment and internet access so they could stay up-to-date with news on the pandemic – something many of us take for granted.

“The numbers for Haringey rough sleepers was immense. The council took everybody they knew in but then more people came out of the shadows. We quickly needed to increase capacity,” says Conor Cregan.

As the pandemic begins to calm down and case numbers start to call, the charity is shifting its strategy from shielding its “guests” to preparing them for life on the outside world, but for this, they need extra support from you, our Haringey Heroes.

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We speak to Conor Cregan, senior services manager at All People All Places, about how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted Haringey’s homeless community and the charity’s rapid response.

Hi Conor! When the government announced the lockdown, what was the feeling among London’s homeless community?

In the beginning, nobody knew what they were doing. The GLA was supposed to take people into accommodations straight away and there was a big announcement that all the rough sleepers were going into hotels immediately, but it wasn't planned very well and a lot of the hotels wouldn't accept people. It was absolutely crazy. Things have settled down now.

How has All People All Places responded?

When Covid-19 took over the world, we had to set up a full-time shelter, rather than our usual night shelter, and move everybody into single occupancy rooms. Our shelter in Muswell Hill is an old care home. It wasn't in great shape so we did a lot of work to get that ready. It was difficult but we transitioned that over about two or three weeks It was all hands on deck. The numbers for Haringey rough sleepers was immense and the council took everybody they knew in and then more people came out of the shadows, so we increased capacity from 20 to 30.

All People All Places service users and food

What’s been the biggest challenge of running the shelter during this time?

Our guests are chaotic. Often they don't understand or appreciate the seriousness of the Covid virus and the ramifications because they don’t have the same access to information as we do. They’re people who’ve been rough sleeping and are very much on their own in the world – and that's why we're providing all the support.

Do you think there might be a silver lining in that by spending more time with these vulnerable people, you can help them more?

Yes. We had amazing results with our night shelter. We were targeted with a cohort of people who didn't want to come in, who were suspicious of services, who were really entrenched rough sleepers who may have been banned from other shelters, and we've had great success keeping them in our shelter.

We’ve seen great changes in one man in particular who was living in a tent in Tottenham and never came out of his tent ever. He’s been with us for five months now but he didn't talk to us for the first few months. He was full of jibber jabber – he would talk to himself and it didn't make any sense. Now he's getting to a point where he's calling the staff by their first names and having meaningful, engaging conversations. It’s amazing.

We have another man who's been sleeping on the buses for years. He would come to the shelters in the winter but he’d never sleep in a bed because he would always be upright. He'd been on the buses too long so he would sleep on two chairs. Now, he's sleeping on a bed.

What are you hoping to achieve long-term with your guests?

For a lot of people, it's about stabilising and getting into recovery from their addictions. For some it's about their immigration and getting EU settled status so they can live in the UK. There are also people who will have worked in the UK in the building sites and then needed more support and weren't able to get it – they may have lost their jobs, gone out on the street and developed issues with alcohol or drugs but haven't been able to access benefits to support them, so they’ve gone downhill. For them, it's about getting them on benefits and into accommodation so they can live an independent life.

All People All Places recognises that this is often a long journey and that just giving somebody a house doesn't stop them from being homeless. There's a long journey of recovery.Staff transforming and decorating the shelter

How have you transformed the building into a homeless shelter?

There was a lot we needed to do to make rooms habitable and suitable for social distancing and self-isolating. The crisis is challenging for everybody, but I think for people with the increased needs that the people that we work with have, they need extra support to be able to maintain that. It's not like it suddenly becomes their home and you can relax in that room. We wanted to provide additional things to keep them distracted, keep them occupied, enable them to keep in touch with family or friends when they're not able to go out.

We're doing more co-production work with our guests. We're trying to get them to take more ownership of their actual living environment by maintaining the building, keeping it clean and doing their own laundry and stuff like that, which wasn't happening before. We’ve also put on activities in the shelter. We had a woman come in to lead a gardening project, which transformed the space and kept the guests really engaged.All People All Places garden

The staff at the shelter sound pretty amazing…

Yes, it's a community and we all have roles. More than 50% of our staff have lived experience of homelessness. I think that gives us the edge in terms of being able to engage with guests. Having that sense of empathy, having that direct experience and knowledge of what people need. It's amazing. You would come into the shelter and you wouldn't know who was a guest and who was a staff member.

How was the grant from Haringey Giving spent?

We bought some electronic tablets so that people can access the internet and be informed about the situation. I remember one incident in the shelter before we got them when we couldn't get the news on the TV and people were going around being like, "Oh God, we need to know what's going on about Coronavirus." Being able to communicate the up-to-date guidance and information in an accessible way is really important.

Some of the money has gone towards cleaning products and PPE because it's so important that we keep the shelter clean and safe for our guests. Some of it has gone towards basic equipment for the self-contained accommodations, so furniture and curtains to make the rooms more homely for the guests. We've also put some of it towards essentials like food and drink.

It's a really challenging period for all charities working in this sector. It's been hard personally and in a practical sense having the resources to keep people safe and care for people in the way that we want to. Having that very quick access to funds has been amazing. It's really made our job easier and it's made the situation easier for our guests as well.

All People All Places rooms for people to stay in

What should people do if they spot a rough sleeper in need of help?

Contact StreetLink. If you see a rough sleeper, ring the hotline or email online via the website. Your tips send information to local outreach teams who then go around looking for people and take the people off the street and into our shelters.

All People All Places logo

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Haringey Giving wants to keep supporting more local community projects like this but we need the help of our Haringey Heroes. With your help we can fund more projects and support Haringey’s most vulnerable people.

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