Lancaster homeless centre boss 'expects' rise in help needed after furlough ends
The continued importance of Lancaster's homeless centre has been shown during the Covid-19 crisis as people have continued to come through its doors for help.
Lancaster and District Homeless Action Service Ltd, in Edward Street, has been able to carry on operating throughout the pandemic.
And while the number of people using the centre has dropped thanks to Lancaster City Council housing a number of street dwellers in a hotel in Morecambe until permanent council housing was found for them, it has still been a godsend to some who need help with food, hygiene and IT facilities.
Centre manager Phil Moore said it's vital that the service continues - even at a lower level of support than usual due to government restrictions - to help anyone in need at such an unprecedented time.
Due to the Tier 3 restrictions in place, the centre is currently opening 9.30am until 1pm, and can only have up to three people in at the moment due to social distancing guidelines.
The centre is usually bustling with many od its 30 volunteers and five paid members of staff, but can now only have a small percentage of that help in the building at any one time.
However, anyone needing support is welcome to go along and have something to eat, a shower and do their laundry as well as use the computer and telephone, and there is also a case worker on hand to help if needed.
As well as having helped rehouse many of the area's street dwellers, the city council sends a member of staff to the centre every day to offer extra support.
"Our main regulars fall very much into that category and we were very pleased that they had a roof over their heads, although we were concerned that their underlying concerns about becoming homeless in the first place were not being addressed," Mr Moore said.
"At the moment we are seeing some people with more complex needs who are finding it difficult to adapt to the changed circumstances.
"The local authority has also now got a new outreach team with money for six months which is great."
"We are delighted to see that the council has put together an agreement to deal with the crisis but we are still here to see how we can help.
"The council are saying that there are not any street homeless people but we do still have some people coming to us who need help, and we will always be here for homeless people as a safety net - that is our main role.
"Compared with last year, on an average day we would get 18 to 20 people in, but now we are getting six to eight.
"We may not be as busy as usual but we are able to give those people more quality time for their needs. Some of those people have known us for years, and that personal contact is irreplaceable.
"It's a safe space where people know they are going to be listened to and supported."
Despite the low numbers through the doors during the pandemic, Mr Moore said he expects the number of people needing help to increase once the government's furlough scheme ends this week.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was brought in to support firms during the pandemic, with furloughed workers across the UK receiving 80 per cent of their salary, up to £2,500.
But the scheme ends on October 31 and Mr Moore said this could lead to a rise in people struggling.
"Looking to the future, without wanting to be too pessimistic, we know that furlough ends this week and we know that this could be a factor that leads to homelessness, along with others such as mental health and relationship breakdowns," he said.
"When you put all this into the mix there's a risk of numbers rising.
"I think we will see an increase in people coming to us after furlough ends - people who maybe haven't been to us before and who think they are not that sort of person - but we always say that homelessness can happen to anyone.
"Furlough has provided a false situation and has been sustaining people in jobs that don't exist any more and we don't really know how that will pan out.
"But we are here with an open door for people to use our services in crisis if they need to."
Mr Moore said the service will continue to operate over the Christmas period - although due to St Thomas's Church Hall in Marton Street being demolished they will be unable to provide overnight accommodation this year.
"For Christmas we have acknowledged the fact that we are not able to accommodate people overnight this year but we will be open from Christmas Day until December 29 operating a take-away service food service and focusing on those that are new to us and in need," he said.
"We are having to assume everyone will be able to take the Christmas meal somewhere to eat it, because there shouldn't be anybody homeless over the Christmas period."