Melanie Malcolm, Service Manager of SHP Redbridge Hostels

Back in December 2018, SHP opened two night shelters in Redbridge and Camden, providing a bed, food and support for 48 rough sleepers every night.

With the Redbridge Ryedale Shelter now set to remain open over the spring, Melanie Malcolm, who has been managing the shelter, reflects on how the service is working to support the borough’s homeless population.

Over the last five years, the number of rough sleepers in Redbridge has exploded. According to figures from the CHAIN database, the number of people bedding down on the streets of the borough has doubled since 2014, reaching 239 rough sleepers each year by 2018.

A new service was set up by the council in response. With the existing Salvation Army-run centre no longer able to meet demand, we helped turn a former nursing home, Ryedale, into a shelter for 32 people.

As the cold and wet of the winter months threatened to put lives at risk, the shelter aimed to ensure that no one would be sleeping rough during this time, and opened its doors a few weeks before Christmas.

A safe space

The people we are supporting at the shelter are entrenched rough sleepers, with the majority feeling marginalised and distrustful of services due to previous bad experiences.

Our way of working is to break down this initial distrust by ensuring all the clients feel welcome, fostering a sense of security and belonging. Aside from the support we provide and a roof over their heads, it is the social side which is the unheralded benefit of the service.

As one client said to me: “Everyone’s in the same situation. Even though we are from different ethnic backgrounds and communities and have different reasons for being here, we all share the common vulnerability of being homeless.”

She continued: “It makes for a good atmosphere where we all feel safe. I didn’t imagine I’d make friends and receive the amount of help that I did.”

That said, bringing 32 different people - all with different backgrounds, experiences and personalities – into one space inevitably means tensions and conflict can arise.

We work with clients to ensure these situations are managed and de-escalated. In doing so, we’re mindful that of one of our values at SHP is ‘Going the extra mile’ – ensuring we continue working with people no matter how challenging it may be, and not giving up on them.

You can often tell when someone is in a worse mood when they come in at opening time – they might be upset or angry, or in a noticeably different frame of mind than usual. We aim to identify this quickly, giving clients the opportunity to release and explain any ongoing concerns to staff.

One guy came in very agitated after a lady had reported him to the police for sleeping on a park bench. He was incensed about the situation as outside of the shelter, he had nowhere else to go and felt like he was just innocently minding his own business – all he had done was to feed her dog a bit of food.

Continued marginalisation and judgement often hurt our clients – but giving them the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings can be crucial to ensuring any frustration doesn’t spill out into anything major, including aggressive behaviour against other clients. We want them to know the shelter is a safe space for them – something which is paramount to the service’s success.

Partnership working

One of the largest areas of work in the shelter is the level of hospitality required, with residents provided with free food, drinks, clean beddings and toiletries on a daily basis. Luckily, many of these items – including all the kitchenware - were provided free by our local and corporate partners.

We have also worked with partners to deliver the service. Four days a week, volunteers from the local charity Serving Humanity provide free food, setting up the dining room with plates, cutlery and napkins, with everyone served at the tables, sitting together. It’s these little things, making people feel looked after, that can often lead them to start looking after themselves better.

We also work alongside the Redbridge Welcome Centre, the council and Salvation Army to ensure we are aware of any clients’ specific risks and vulnerabilities.

One of the major barriers in supporting rough sleepers in Redbridge is that around two-thirds either have no recourse or limited recourse to public funds, meaning getting them extra support or housing them can be virtually impossible. We have brought in the Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex and London (RAMFEL) to the shelter to work with these clients, providing legal advice and casework to support them out of their plight.

Success Stories

Like all our services, our aim at the shelter is to get the people we work with out of homelessness for good. For the clients at Ryedale, this means getting them equipped to move off the streets into temporary housing. We do this by working with our other Redbridge Services which include three hostels, a community support service and Housing First provision.

One client has been successfully housed in his own private rented property, relocating to Bradford at his own request, with support from our community support service.

The majority, however, are not ready to move straight into the private sector and require further support to overcome their needs. We have helped a further seven clients to access our supported accommodation in the borough, with three already living in our hostels and four more on the waiting list.

The shelter has remained at full capacity over the entire four months, showing the clear demand for the service – and how much further we need to go to ensure no one is sleeping rough in Redbridge.