- Government announce new homelessness fund - Next Steps Accommodation Programme
- Government announces free psychological first aid training
- Milton Keynes Council publish MK Local COVID outbreak Control Plan
- Spotlight on: Winter Night Shelter MK.... Interview with Sara Millington
- Meet our CEO - Tracey McCillen
Spotlight on: Winter Night Shelter MK.... Interview with Sara Millington
As part of our new 'Spotlight' series we have spoken to Sara Millington - Communications Manager at the Winter Night Shelter MK about what they have been doing to help the homeless and vulnerable in MK during the Covid-19 pandemic.
What does the Winter Night Shelter MK do?
We aim to relieve poverty, distress and homelessness and help homeless people rebuild their lives. We provide supervised overnight accommodation and meals to homeless and vulnerable people who would otherwise be rough sleeping in Milton Keynes during the coldest months of the year (November–March).
We work in partnership with 14 churches and community centres across the city who provide their facilities as an overnight venue. We operate a daily reception cafe, and two overnight venues per night, with a total capacity of 30 bed spaces.
In addition to essential shelter our staﬀ and trained volunteers provide welfare support. We enable our guests to access drug and alcohol support services, to obtain housing advice, move on to longer-term accommodation and to ﬁnd work.
What problems areas can you currently see in MK?
MK, like any city, has its struggles with supporting and housing rough sleepers, but the problems have been magnified and multiplied by the current Coronavirus crisis. The homeless were offered rooms by MK Council, which got a roof over people's heads. However, having to endure lockdown in hotel rooms with no cooking facilities, or being temporarily housed in poor quality accommodation, has been really hard for people. Many of the support services they usually access have been closed, along with the places they would usually find refuge (libraries, the shopping centre, fast food restaurants, etc). Some of the support services are starting to open up but this has been a really difficult time for the homeless.
The economic pressures are growing. We are now starting to observe a number of large local companies making redundancies or going into administration, and are concerned about the growing level of need and potential increase in homeless over the coming weeks and months.
What is WNS MK doing to help resolve these issues?
Because of the pandemic we were forced to close our winter accommodation early this year, and our welfare team worked hard to urgently find each guest accommodation in which they could be safe during lockdown. We then had the challenge of ensuring their basic needs were met, as many had no income, many had lost agency jobs which fell through the net of the furlough scheme, and some no access to benefits with no way to even buy food.
We responded by organising emergency food parcels for 12 people, with contact to check on their welfare. Since then more people have been referred to us or identified by us, and we are providing food to anyone in great need with no other source of help. Our day centre, Unity Park Station, has been repurposed as a food distribution centre, and we are currently providing food parcels and reheatable nutritious meals to over 140 people per week. We are thankful for the fantastic volunteer support, cooks in the community and food donations that enable this.
Watch WNSMK video on their COVID response https://youtu.be/mCCg9GcEx_U
What do you see are the next steps?
We are concerned about the growing levels of need, and about a growing dependency of this temporary food support. As other support services have started to open up now, we are starting to scale back, having given our recipients good notice that food parcels will be coming to a close at the end of July. We're providing advice to enable people to access benefits and other support to ensure no one is left struggling to feed themselves, and are looking forward to reopening our weekly Community Club as a place for people to access support when the time is right.
We now need to plan ahead for our provision for rough sleepers this winter. We will need to work with a whole host of new restrictions and are looking at alternative models for our emergency accommodation that will be appropriate in a world with Covid-19. There is a lot to do behind the scenes right now!
What are the benefits of being a Recognised Partner with MKHP?
We really value being a Recognised Partner of MKHP because it provides a supportive network of contacts in the sector, and a valuable source of information. It brings together partner organisations who are working with the homeless and vulnerable to enable us to discuss what is happening and ensure we complement and don't unnecessarily duplicate our efforts. It is also a mouthpiece for the whole sector in MK, and we are stronger when we work together.