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The Westminster Outreach Service pose with their award from the London Homelessness Awards

Westminster homelessness charity awarded £10,000 for work during pandemic

A Westminster homelessness charity has been awarded £10,000 for its work during the pandemic.

St. Mungo’s street outreach service was recognized by the London Homelessness Awards for its role in the government’s “everyone in” pledge during the first COVID-19 lockdown in a ceremony on 14 October.

The service has operated in Westminster, which has the highest number of rough sleepers of any borough in the UK, since 2018.

Manager of Westminster street outreach service, Claire Hopkins said: “We’re really pleased to be recognized. It’s incredible.

“I think we’ve all reflected this past week, and it almost feels like a pause to acknowledge the work that the team achieved over the last year.”

Claire Hopkins of the Westminster Street Outreach services holds up the London Homelessness Award
CELEBRATING A DIFFICULT YEAR: The London Homelessness Awards also recognized MyBnk: The Money House, Camden Health Improvement and Southwark Law Centre. Credit: St. Mungo’s

The charity runs 26 outreach services across the country, and worked throughout the pandemic to help rough sleepers move from the streets to emergency accommodation.

“Overnight, in Westminster, it was a humanitarian crisis, essentially,” Hopkins said.

“There wasn’t anywhere for people to access public toilets; you couldn’t get drinking water anywhere; the kind of free food provisions that sustain a lot of people who are rough sleeping – everything had vanished.

“People were hungry, people were thirsty, people were really, really scared.”

The “everyone in” pledge also brought individuals with insecure accommodation arrangements, who may have been sofa-surfing or sleeping in public places, to the service.

“Suddenly those options weren’t on the table. The volume of people we were supporting went through the roof,” the service manager said.

But by adopting a “housing first” model, where individuals were assessed on vulnerability to the virus rather than eligibility to particular welfare schemes, the charity was able to help people find long-term housing options 1,632 times.

Members of the Westminster street outreach service talk with a rough sleeper in the doorway of a building.
WORKING TOGETHER: Since the start of the pandemic, the organisation has continued the joint work it does on the street with health partners, Westminster Council, the GLA and the MHCLG. Credit: St. Mungo’s

“There were points pre-pandemic where the number of rough sleepers was around 380.

“During the pandemic the numbers were below 100, which has never happened in this borough before,” Hopkins said.

The Westminster charity will invest the £10,000 in its through-care team, which offers personalized support to individuals placed in tenancies so they can sustain them and make them long-term homes.

She added: “The pandemic was such a huge learning experience for how numbers could be reduced on the street, and the award is a good way of trying to put down on paper what worked well over the last year and a half.

“We’re keen to take all of that learning forward, and continue helping anyone who finds themselves rough sleeping.”

Featured Image: St. Mungo’s

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