This week HORRID Covid! spoke to 'Charlie' at St. Mungo’s homeless charity who is currently managing a Bristol hotel that has been repurposed as emergency accommodation during the pandemic.
Right at the beginning of the outbreak, the government (“or probably some really good civil servant somewhere”) made a fast decision to turn unused hotels into homeless hostels with the aim of protecting homeless people who are massively at risk of catching and spreading coronavirus.
“In some ways it feels like a social experiment that could have gone wrong if we weren't careful” explains Charlie “At the beginning there was a lot to sort out in terms of understanding what kind of support we could safely offer. But now we're working together with the hotel staff and a security team to provide support for the 100 homeless people who have been nominated for rooms here by the council. It's turned out to be an extremely effective measure here in Bristol – I'm yet to meet one homeless person who's been infected.”
Support from surrounding organisations has also played an important role in the initiative. Caring In Bristol
has partnered up with local restaurateurs (including Michelin star chef Josh Eggleton) to prepare and distribute 400 free meals per day, using food that has been donated to the cause.
“It's a bit of a logistical miracle really and I think it's shown us what is possible when we repurpose things.“
“It's hard to imagine the future but Covid-19 has highlighted social issues like homelessness, domestic violence and the fact that BAME people are at a higher risk of infection and I think it's sparked some new understanding about how vulnerable we all are. But it's often very complicated in terms of thinking about the future for homeless people. Some suffer from mental illness and can't engage in the process of getting into a hostel. Some are not UK nationals which makes things hard. Others are fearful of living with other people and prefer sleeping outside on their own.”
At this point in the discussion, we turn our attention to a small park that sits in between the hotel and the council buildings. In the park there is a small bombed-out church, a graveyard, beautiful roses, tents where people sleep and well trodden paths that lead into the bushes where you'll find needle wrappers and cooking up tins.
“It's an interesting space for me because it's so close to the hotel and also to where the council housing services are” says Charlie. “I thought it was interesting that you could be living in a tent there in March, travel 200 yards to the council and then travel another 100 yards to get a room at the hotel – but yet there are still people sleeping in the park and it made me think that the experiences of those people can't be that simple.”
“I did a project on this park for the photography evening class I attend. The project is called 'Sanctuary'. The park and the church within it are meant to be places of sanctuary – places where you can hide – and I wanted to see if that was true in any way.
"This dark ivy inside a bush feels otherworldly to me and makes me pick up on the feeling of alienation you might have if you were living there".
"There is a tension in the park, between being beautiful and being dark and mysterious".
"The park is small but has what feels like a million gates. I saw these 2 locks and thought 'but why, when it's so open?' And then there was a gate being held open with this orange string, so there was this fecade of security – 'You can come in here, but you can't come in here, or here, or here'".