Member Spotlight: One Roof Leicester on their winter night shelter: ‘One of the most rewarding parts is seeing the transformation in the guests’

Salma Ravat is the manager of One Roof Leicester (ORL), a NACCOM member in the Midlands working to reduce homelessness in their local community. One Roof runs a winter night shelter alongside a year-round housing scheme. As the winter draws to an end, we caught up with Salma to find out how the night shelter has been working this year.

How many people have been accommodated in the shelter this year? There have been 23 residents so far.

Which venues are you using and how many volunteers are involved? We are using seven venues to provide the overnight accommodation, this includes three Church of England churches, one Baptist Church, one Roman Catholic Church, one Hindu Temple and one Synagogue. In addition, we are using the Methodist Church as the meeting point. In total we have over 300 volunteers involved.

How has the shelter developed over the last few years and what are the best things about it? We use the Housing Justice model for night shelters, where the shelter rotates around different faith venues. We’ve stuck to the same process as it works so well but the main developments are the number of venues that are involved.

We’ve had some changes in venues that we have utilised for the overnight stay, some venues couldn’t host this year but we were really fortunate in finding replacements almost instantly. In fact we now have four new venues that want to be involved next year.

We’ve increased the opening times for the meeting point so that guests have longer indoors. We’ve also introduced board games at the meeting point so that guests can engage and interact with volunteers from the moment they arrive.  The number of volunteers has increased which means that shifts get filled very quickly but it also means that some volunteers can’t find opportunities when they want to help or they are limited to how often they can help.

One of the most rewarding part of running the shelter is seeing the transformation in the guests, when they first arrive they are cold, tired, hungry and very quiet. As the days and weeks go by you can see their demeanour change, they become more chatty and get involved in playing board games or cards, they have huge smiles on their faces and sit and talk to volunteers.

The other great thing is the volunteers’ contribution and dedication to the shelter. They all get on with their practical tasks and duties but also make the venue so inviting and filled with hospitality and warmth so that the guests feel very welcome.

What do you do about housing options for people when the shelter ends? Those that are in the shelter who are eligible for Local Authority housing support are being supported to bid each week on properties. However, due to the long waiting list we are working with the City Council to see if these guests can be offered a room in a One Roof House until they secure permanent accommodation. ORL has four shared houses for single people, these are offered to people who are homeless and have low support needs and find it difficult to secure other accommodation. We provide a room in a shared house with support from a Support Worker and befriending from volunteers from the local community. We also offer accommodation to those without recourse – EU migrants and destitute asylum seekers if we can see a pathway for them so this can be securing employment for an EU migrant or Section 4 housing for an asylum seeker.

We also spoke to one of this year’s residents, a recently recognised refugee, to hear more about how he came to the shelter and why he needs to use it.

Tekie is a 34 year old refugee from Eritrea.   He came to the UK in April 2018 and was granted leave to remain in November 2018 whilst in asylum accommodation in Leicester. He explains that he did receive information about his housing options when he got his papers, via an email and letter. However because of his limited English skills his brother, who has refugee status in Germany, had to translate the letter for him over the phone. He states he did not receive a phone call from the Home Office with details of how to get an appointment at the JobCentre (known as the ‘Post Grant Appointment Service’) but he was able to go to the JobCentre and apply for benefits during the move on period anyway. At the same time, he went to Leicester council to ask for help with housing, but they advised there was nothing available for him. He then experienced a gap of around one month after getting his papers before his benefits started. In this time, he went to the Doors Centre, a local homelessness support service, where he was supported with food and shelter until the One Roof Leicester night shelter opened in December 2018. Now he stays there each night, and is bidding for accommodation during the day alongside attending college where he learns English. When asked about his experience since getting his papers, Tekie explains, via a translator, ‘It has been a stressful time with the council not being able to give me a place’.

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