Everton Fans Help The Homeless

Rough sleepers are being helped to stay warm this winter thanks to the efforts of Everton fans, reports the Liverpool Echo.

The club’s LGBT+ supporters group, Rainbow Toffees, set out to help the homeless by providing them with beanies over the winter months. The group, which aims to help tackle homophobia in football, took on the project as the impact of the pandemic and the colder weather takes its toll on people sleeping rough. The beanies, which feature a rainbow Everton logo, were given to the group by former professional footballer Anwar Uddin to help them raise awareness of their cause.

The group is run by Mike Homfray and social media coordinator and promoter, Paul Hession, who decided that the beanies were better off donated to homeless people who need all the extra help they can get during these challenging times. Paul said: “They gave me loads of beanies to promote us, and I thought do you know what, to kill two birds with one stone, I should go out and give the hats to the homeless because it’s absolutely freezing.”

Paul said that it was a spur of the moment decision, and he handed the beanies out alongside long-time friend David Soul, previous owner of PINK, who drove him around Liverpool and would jump out to give the hats out whenever he saw someone who was vulnerable. The 43-year-old handed the beanies out over the course of a couple of weeks. He said that although it was only a small act of kindness, rough sleepers had been very happy to have had someone acknowledge them.

Personal experiences, and his own experience of having previously worked for a hostel, inspired Paul to pursue helping the homeless. He said: “We’re all human at the end of the day.”

Rainbow Toffees has had help from famous faces including Everton legends Peter Reid, Neville Southhall (their patron) and Kevin Ratcliffe, as well as charity fundraiser and fan Speedo Mick. Paul said “I was showing the homeless these photos (of the stars wearing the hats), and a lot of them were really up for getting a selfie because we’re associated with these well-known people.” He said the charity needs as much exposure as they can get to continue doing their work. He said: “A lot of people don’t associate being gay and liking football, which is ridiculous really because I grew up as a kid loving football all my life, so again it’s about making people aware that we’re here as well.”

You can purchase the beanies, alongside other merchandise, from News from Nowhere on Bold Street and all proceedings will go towards funding for LGBT awareness events. You can also send donations by getting in contact with the organisation through their social media.

COVID Vaccinations For The Homeless And Front Line Workers

Earlier this month, Homeless Link wrote to the Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment to ask that working with people who have no home is treated as a priority occupation for vaccination, as a matter for urgency.

They also asked members to write to their MPs to raise the same issue and many have taken immediate action, including asking their workforce to write to their own MPs. Following this, the MHCLG Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, wrote to local authorities asking them to determine whether or not the homelessness workforce might be categorised as frontline ‘social care workers’ directly working with people clinically vulnerable to COVID-19. And, in its operational guidance, NHS England identifies frontline ‘social care workers’ as those working directly with vulnerable people who need care and support and includes voluntary sector supported housing workers within this definition.

According to the public health Immunisation Green Book, ‘social care workers’ fall into the second cohort of the population to be prioritised for vaccination. NHS Trusts, as the default provider of COVID-19 vaccinations should, in conjunction with local authorities, take immediate action to offer COVID-19 vaccination to ‘social care workers’.

More and more local authorities have already taken the lead in prioritising the homelessness workforce for vaccination. In Worcester last week, Worcester Cares, the City’s homelessness forum – set up by, amongst others, Homeless Link member St Paul’s Hostel For The Homeless – took the initiative on 5 January. Herefordshire and Worcestershire CCG liaised with Worchester Cares partners – including commissioned and non-commissioned homeless services such as day centres, street kitchens, outreach, drug and alcohol treatment, as well as advice providers, the local business improvement districts and principal local businesses – who each nominated a single point of contact and an estimate of vaccine numbers for frontline staff with the lead officer in the CCG. Within 24 hours the CCG had received the information they needed and, importantly, had established a way of communicating to organisations at pace.

Jonathan Sutton, CEO of St Paul’s said “This is a huge effort. Worcester Cares has become a well-oiled machine and will play its part in helping in this national roll out.” Now, this week, following the Secretary of State’s letter, local authorities and partners across the country have identified eligible staff – including voluntary sector navigators, outreach teams and hostel staff – and offered access to vaccinations. Some local authorities are also taking the decision to proactively identify people with no permanent home who are clinically extremely vulnerable and offering them access to vaccination, a position reflected in Government’s vaccination plan, published earlier this week. Homeless Link members have already played a critical role in ensuring the safety of their workforce and those they work for, both by bringing political pressure to bear and by using existing local networks to make sure those at the frontline of homelessness and their clients get the protection they need.

To get your homelessness population and workforce prioritised for vaccination it recommends:

  • Speaking to your commissioner, local authority Director of Adult Social Services or Director of Public Health and letting them know that your workforce needs to be vaccinated. Ask about timescales and vaccination sites.
  • Using your homelessness forum (your local authority will know if a forum operates in your area) or work with local partners, to put in place referral pathways
  • Working with your local authority and CCG to coordinate provision of mobile or satellite vaccination facilities which are easily accessible to people experiencing homelessness
  • Contacting your local CCG and seek a meeting to discuss the need to prioritise clients, as well as workers
  • Ensuring all your clients are registered with a GP and that those who are clinically vulnerable are known to health services
  • Challenging any GP refusal to register your clients
  • Subscribing to the PHE vaccination update, and
  • Feeding intelligence to Homeless Link.

Government Strategy On Rough Sleeping ‘Out Of Step’

The government must review its strategy to end rough sleeping in England by 2024 after coronavirus showed it to be “out of step”, a watchdog warned.

A National Audit Office report praised the ‘Everyone In’ scheme, which housed about 33,000 people in the crisis. But the plan highlighted issues with the current strategy – with thousands more needing help than expected, reports the BBC. The government said it was “regularly taking into account the lessons learned” from the pandemic. Boris Johnson made the pledge to end rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament shortly before he won the general election in 2019.

At the time, a snapshot figure taken by the government one evening showed 4,266 people were sleeping on the streets in England. But it did not include people in night shelters or assessment centres, and could have missed people sleeping hidden from view. Research by the BBC carried out in February 2020 showed more than 28,000 people across the UK had been recorded as sleeping rough in the previous 12 months – and in England, councils were seeing figures five times higher than the snapshot.

The ‘Everyone In’ scheme, launched in March 2020, aimed to provide emergency shelter for all rough sleepers during the first wave of the pandemic. Funding was ended two months later to the anger of many charities, but the government said it had made a number of more targeted funding pledges to tackle the issue since. The National Audit Office (NAO) carried out an investigation into the housing of rough sleepers in the pandemic and praised the “considerable achievement” of ‘Everyone In’.

The head of the watchdog, Gareth Davies, said the government “acted swiftly to house rough sleepers and keep transmission rates low during the first wave”. But the NAO investigation found between the end of March and November 2020, 33,139 people were given accommodation through the scheme – a number almost eight times greater than the annual snapshot of rough sleepers. Examples included Bristol City Council that reported it accommodated 400 people in March, despite its most recent snapshot count being 98 rough sleepers. And the London Borough of Southwark had 25 known rough sleepers in March 2020, but within hours of ‘Everyone In’ launching, it had taken 200 people into hotels, with nearly 1,000 accommodated by November.

The government pledged to carry out a review of its strategy to end rough sleeping early in 2020, but the plans took a back seat as the crisis unfolded. The NAO said there was “an ongoing need for a review of the strategy as it is out of step with the government’s target”, adding there were now “important lessons from Everyone In to consider”. Mr Davies said the scale of the rough sleeping population in England has now been made clear, and it “far exceeds” previous government estimates. Understanding the size of this population, and who needs specialist support, is essential to achieve its ambition to end rough sleeping”, he added.

The report also highlighted the large number of people remaining in emergency accommodation unable to move on as they have no recourse to public funds – a condition put into the residence permit of some immigrants meaning they cannot access benefits. The NAO also called on the government to “keep under close review” its more targeted response to the current coronavirus resurgence, whether it will “protect vulnerable individuals as decisively” as ‘Everyone in’.

A spokesman from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said they were pleased the NAO recognised its achievements with ‘Everyone In’. He added: “By November, we had supported around 33,000 people, with nearly 10,000 in emergency accommodation and more than 23,000 in longer-term accommodation. We recently announced an additional £10m to help accommodate rough sleepers and ensure they are registered with a GP to receive the vaccine, and we will invest £750m next year as part of our commitment to end rough sleeping.”

Asked whether the review into the ending rough sleeping strategy would take place, the spokesman said: “Our ambition to end rough sleeping within this parliament still stands, and we are regularly taking into account the lessons learned from our ongoing pandemic response, including ‘Everyone In’.”

Oldham To Prioritise Homeless For Covid-19 Vaccine

The local authority plans to move homeless people up the pecking order to receive the vital jab – despite Government guidance.

Leaders in Oldham will have become the first in the UK to give homeless people priority access to the Covid-19 vaccine after the local council defied Government guidance to offer out jabs, reports the Big Issue. The Greater Manchester local authority’s cabinet member for adult health and social care, Dr Zahid Chauhan, has spearheaded a plan to ensure homeless people in the area will not miss out on the potentially life-saving doses as Covid-19 cases continue to soar.

Age is currently the key factor when determining priority, following recommendations from the independent advisory group the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). The Government hopes to vaccinate the first four priority categories – totalling 13 million people – by mid-February. But Dr Chauhan, who has been working on the frontline as a GP throughout the pandemic while also running homelessness charity Homeless Friendly, has called on other local authorities to follow his lead.

“Every authority and commissioning group should be prioritising homeless people. It should be a national priority,” said Dr Chauhan. “Unfortunately we are trying to find solutions to national problems locally and I’m hoping that will set an example and others will come through too. I’m trying to do my bit.”

Councillors backed Dr Chauhan’s plan to work with local GPs on Monday with specific plans to get the vaccine to homeless people to be developed out in the next few weeks. Since the Covid-19 vaccine rollout began in Oldham last month, 3,700 local residents over the age of 80 and frontline workers have received doses of the vaccine.

In a report published at the end of last year, the JCVI recommended that homelessness and other inequalities should not be taken into account when selecting priority groups, warning of “reinforcing negative stereotypes and increasing experiences of stigma and discrimination” by doing so. But Dr Chauhan insisted people experiencing homelessness should be prioritised to receive the Covid-19 vaccine and that councils are well-placed to reach people who are not registered with a GP or distrust services thanks to past efforts to hand out flu jabs.

He added: “They are as much citizens of this country as anyone else and just because no one is speaking up for them they should not be left to die alone in cold weather with Covid where no one will notice. This is inhumane. We have well-established pathways so we know how to find these people and where they are and how to contact them and I think the whole country has systems in place for that. I would say to Boris Johnson: ‘Please be humane, do not discriminate against these people’.”

At national level, homelessness charities are also calling for a rethink on where people without a permanent home sit among priority lists. Crisis chief executive John Sparkes demanded priority access to the Covid-19 vaccine is given to homeless people in his response to Johnson’s new national lockdown.

“People who are homeless face severe health inequalities and, as such, we call on the government to ensure that they are prioritised for Covid-19 vaccines, something that will be aided greatly by having a safe and stable home,” Sparkes said. And the national membership group for frontline services Homeless Link has made the same call. Chief executive Rick Henderson insisted: “there is no question of this need for priority status”.

Protection For Rough Sleepers And Renters During Lockdown

Rough Sleepers and renters in England will be given extra protections during the latest national lockdown, ministers have confirmed.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has announced councils will collectively receive an additional £10 million in funding to help redouble their efforts to accommodate all those currently rough sleeping across England. The move will also allow all those currently sleeping rough to be registered with a GP and to be offered a Covid-19 vaccine in line with the priority groups set out by independent advisory group, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

Councils will be asked to reach out again to those who have previously refused help, give rising infection rates and the colder winter months. Renters will also be supported by an extension to the ban on bailiff evictions, which had been due to expire on January 11 following the end of the ‘winter truce’. For all cases except those involving anti-social behaviour, bailiff evictions will be paused for at least six weeks – until at least 21 February - with measures kept under review.

Communities Secretary Jenrick said: “At the start of this pandemic we made sure that the most vulnerable in society were protected. This winter, we are continuing in this vein and redoubling our efforts to help those most in need. Our ongoing Everyone In initiative is widely regarded as one of the most successful of its kind in the world, ensuring 33,000 people are safe in accommodation. We are now going further and focusing on GP registration of rough sleepers. We are also extending the ban on bailiff evictions – helping to protect the most vulnerable renters.”

The Government introduced the Everyone In scheme at the start of the pandemic back in March 2020, housing almost 15,000 rough sleepers and vulnerable people in hotels and other emergency accommodation to protect them from the coronavirus. Ministers say that by November last year, around 33,000 people had received support through Everyone In with nearly 10,000 in emergency accommodation and over 23,000 moved on into longer-term accommodation. But with the UK recording its second-highest daily death toll of the pandemic on Thursday and temperatures plummeting, ministers were forced to act to save lives once more.

The move to protect rough sleepers during the national lockdown has been praised by Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes who has been calling for the return of the Everyone In scheme in recent days. “These renewed efforts to protect people who are homeless in the pandemic will save lives,” said Sparkes. “What is very welcome here is the two-pronged approach – a continued commitment to getting everyone into safe accommodation but also now making sure people are registered with a GP so they can quickly access the vaccines. We know through our services that people facing homelessness often are not registered with a doctor’s surgery. Addressing this issue will be a lifesaving intervention and a step towards ensuring people who are homeless are protected in the longer-term.”

One of the founding members of the coalition, Museum of Homelessness co-founder Jess Turtle, called on the Government to ensure that everyone is included in the new rough sleeping protections “no matter their imigration status, identity or situation”. “After an intense week where so many have called for action, we’re pleased to see the Government finally acknowledging the true scale of the current crisis,” said Turtle.

“We are pleased to see protections extended for renters and plans made to ensure access to the vaccine for our community. But we are worried that this £10 million won’t be enough and that people won’t be able to access help due to their immigration status, identity or situation. As winter unfolds we will continue our practical and campaigning work. We are proud to be working with brilliant and tireless people in our Homeless Taskforce and the Dying Homeless Coalition to try to ensure no one is left to face this pandemic alone.”

For renters, Friday’s announcement will pause bailiff evictions but does not stop landlords from being able to serve eviction notices. The Government also announced a new mediation pilot for renters who face court procedures and eviction from next month. The pilot will be introduced as part of the possession process to bring landlords and tenants together to reach a mutual agreement that allows people to stay in their homes during the pandemic.

Generation Rent director Alicia Kennedy insisted the new measures do not go far enough to protect renters.

“The government is right to extend the ban on bailiff enforcement for the duration of the lockdown,” said Kennedy. “But it is disappointing they have not committed to a full eviction ban as they did in March last year. The Housing Secretary pledged that no one who lost income as a result of the pandemic would lose their home, but half a million households have fallen behind on rent since March and without further support they will get deeper into debt and face homelessness.”

But there was no announcement on any additional financial support for renters. On Thursday, debt charity StepChange joined The Big Issue’s Ride Out Recession Alliance, landlord groups ARLA Propertymark and the National Residential Landlords Association as well as Nationwide Building Society in calling for renters to receive support for mounting arrears.

Richard Lane, StepChange director of external affairs, said: “We fully welcome the extension of the temporary evictions ban. We also urge the Government to ban bailiff visits, and to start building the longer-term recovery framework that will be needed to tackle household debt once the pandemic eventually ends.”

‘Band Aid Liverpool’ To Help The Homeless

More than 70 well-known musicians and singers from Liverpool have come together to create Band Aid Liverpool 2020 – and their bid to help the homeless has gained some very special Sir Bob Geldof approval.

The supergroup was the brainchild of Tony Cook – keyboard player with The Mersey Beatles. Along with the band’s drummer, Brian Ambrose, he pulled together a host of Merseyside musicians to record the new version of the classic song and raise much-needed funds for Shelter, reports the Liverpool Echo. The duo also set about changing a few of the lyrics to give them an extra local meaning.

Among those featured are Billy Kinsley, Gary Murphy, Paul Kappa, Phil Jones, Asa Murphy, Steve Charles, Jay Murray, Rosalie Galvin, Dani Graham and The Hummingbirds. And the artists were bowled over when their reworking was given the seal of approval by the song’s legendary writer Sir Bob Geldof and Midge Ure. At one point, Band Aid Liverpool 2020 reached position No.11 on the iTunes chart.

Tony, from Dingle, said: “It has been a long but utterly brilliant road for me and Brian to get to this point and we could not be happier that the single was released. Like many musicians we’ve not played a gig since February due to the pandemic. At the end of August, I had this mad dream about being on stage with loads of musicians from Liverpool and it got me thinking ‘what if that could come true?’ I developed the idea and, although there was no way we could all physically play together on stage due to lockdown, we’ve done the next best thing and come together virtually to re- create a classic song with a timeless message.” Each performer recorded their vocals and instrumentation at home.

Tony said receiving approval from Sir Bob and Midge to release Band Aid Liverpool’s version of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ as a single was like finding “the Holy Grail.” He added: “Warner came back saying we had their full approval. They loved the track and the whole concept, and to have their support is like the Holy Grail for us. As well as bringing more than 70 hugely talented local performers together we wanted to raise awareness of a really important charity and hopefully raise a fair bit of cash for it too.”

Tony added: “Shelter’s amazing work with the homeless and those struggling with poor housing inspired me. They say everyone’s only two pay cheques away from being homeless and that’s especially true in my own industry – we’ve been devastated. We’ve changed a couple of the lyrics in the song so people could relate them to homelessness in Liverpool. Rather than ‘there won’t be snow in Africa’ was very appropriate for Liverpool, so now it says ‘there won’t be homes on Merseyside this Christmas’ and then it says ‘on the streets their numbers grow, no place for them to go.’ Now we have that we hope it will grab everyone’s attention and hopefully put a smile on the people of Liverpool over Christmas.”

Max Newton, head of community fundraising for Shelter, said: “It’s been a year of unbelievable difficulty for many people. The impact of the pandemic means that many people are facing homelessness for the first time – some will be forced to sleep on the streets this winter. Shelter is working hard to help those who are worst affected, but as growing numbers of people need our support, we need the support of the public.”

Max added: “That’s why Band Aid Liverpool supporting us means so much to Shelter here in Merseyside. The money raised will help us to give hope and support to those who need us after a turbulent year. Thank you to Band Aid Liverpool; you are making a real difference to the people families facing homelessness this Christmas in the Liverpool City region.”

Rough Sleepers Banned From Sheltering At Cathedral

Temporary barriers have been installed to part of Lincoln Cathedral to stop rough sleepers using it at night.

Officials said they had reluctantly taken the decision to close off the Galilee Porch after a number of serious incidents, including a fire, reports the BBC. Human faeces were also found around the site, which staff at the cathedral said posed a serious health risk.

A public notice had been put on the fence, along with a quote from Psalm 4:8 – ‘In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe’ – and a poster that reads “go and do thou likewise”, but these have since been removed. The call to fence off the area has come under criticism, with some accusing Lincoln Cathedral of not living up to their Christian values.

Charities have praised the work the cathedral does to help homeless people. Will Harrison, Chapter Clerk, said: “We have done our utmost to support homeless people practically, and we have always welcomed the majority whom we have come to know, and who have respected the shelter provided by the cathedral.”

“However, following a series of serious incidents, we had to reassess the situation. Our staff were daily removing human waste found on and around the cathedral building. We also found significant damage as a result of a fire in the Galilee Porch,” he added. Cathedral staff are urging anyone in difficulty to seek help.

Caroline Killeavy, chief executive of YMCA Lincolnshire, said the incidents were a result of “anti-social behaviour”. She said there had been a “shoulder-to-shoulder” effort this year in tackling homelessness in the city, and also praised the cathedral for its fundraising efforts and support.

It comes after charities warned that homeless people’s lives could be lost unless action was taken to find them socially-distanced accommodation during the second wave of the pandemic. The Crisis charity said it was unable to open its centres this Christmas, but was instead providing hotel rooms and delivering meals.

The government said it had taken “unprecedented action” this year, with more than £700m being provided to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping.

The Scandal Of Empty Homes Amidst Rising Homelessness

Half a million homes across the UK are being left unused, as the number of families living in temporary accommodation continues to rise every year. Liverpool has 4,631 long-term empty homes, accounting for 1.99% of residential properties

While the Government boasts of efforts to build more houses, campaigners say increasing homelessness shows something is still going wrong, reports The Metro. They say too much emphasis is being put on attracting investors for homes well out of many families’ price range, while what is really needed is more social housing. Figures from the Ministry of Housing show Cornwall has a total of 16,713 homes out of regular use, the highest of any local authority in the country, accounting for one in every 16 properties. While 13,642 of these include second homes, 3,071 were classified separately as long-term empty (left vacant for six months or longer), up from 2,840 last year.

One in nine homes in the wealthy west London borough of Kensington and Chelsea are out of regular use, with 1,306 long-term empty properties and 9,045 second homes. Separate figures show 2,275 households in the local authority are in temporary accommodation, meaning they have been unable to secure proper, long-term housing. Elsewhere in the capital, 9,595 homes remain out of regular use in Camden, accounting for one in 12 properties. These include 8,150 second homes and 1,445 long-term empty properties, while 545 families are stuck in temporary accommodation. The east London borough of Tower Hamlets has 1,035 long-term empty homes and 7,405 second homes, up 1,165 from last year. Meanwhile, Manchester had 6,671 second homes this year and 1,455 long-term empty properties, while 2,313 families in the city’s central borough remain homeless.

Chris Bailey, from charity Action on Empty Homes, told Metro.co.uk: “Government has praised increased rates of house building, but numbers of both empty homes and homeless families keep on rising. If we are building more homes and both homelessness and numbers of empty homes are still rising, then we are getting housing wrong in this country. We are building the wrong housing to meet the most urgent needs. We need to stop building homes for investors and start building and renovating the homes that we need for the 98,300 families and their 129,000 children who are stuck in overcrowded and unsuitable temporary accommodation.”

He added: “Government needs to back councils with investment and with improved powers to bring empty homes into use, where owners won’t or can’t. Keeping half a million homes empty in the middle of a housing crisis, which is worsening as coronavirus destroys jobs and lives, simply makes no sense. It is time to start creating homes and stop flushing over a billion pounds a year down the toilet on poor quality temporary accommodation for families who are all entitled to decent, affordable, social homes.” As well as more social housing, Mr Bailey says carrot-and-stick methods such as punitive taxes against owners of unused homes and incentives to rent them out could also help.

The number of people in temporary accommodation has been rising steadily since December 2011, according to a Parliamentary briefing paper published last month. Out of the 98,300 households in temporary accommodation in June 2020, 64% (62,670 households) were placed in temporary accommodation by London local authorities. The number of families with children placed in B&B-style accommodation increased from 630 at the end of March 2010 to 1,440 at the end of June 2020, but this was 58% lower than a peak in September 2016.

Adam Higgins, co-founder of Manchester based property developers Capital & Centric, says that despite a boom in new-build apartments in town and city centres over the past decade, securing funding for these projects often proves difficult. He says most developers have to go to banks, who insist on a huge chunk of properties being pre-sold, before construction, to reduce their risk. Many families aren’t keen on buying a home that hasn’t even been built, so investors, often from overseas, tend to buy these up instead. As a country that has been comparatively stable, both politically and economically, Britain’s property market is an attractive place for rich investors from countries like China, Russia and Saudi Arabia to park their assets, safe from the clutches of authorities at home.

With house prices continuing to rise overall, many aren’t fussed about renting these properties out and giving people a place to call home. Mr Higgins added: “We’ve done our own research – we think something like 76% of properties in the UK are being targeted at investors and only about 2% of apartments coming onto the market are being targeted specifically at owner occupiers. It has its place by the way, because without that I think there would be a lot less homes being built, which would ultimately put up the prices for everybody. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, I just don’t think there’s a very balanced approach.”

He added: “Any proceeds they do make from investing in housing stays in their own city, and that only really happens with owner occupiers. If you’ve got a building that’s sold to owner-occupiers they’re naturally going to take care of it. It’s going to be incredibly difficult to get these investors back to repair the windows or paint the walls or repair the roof.”

A Ministry of Housing and Local Government spokesperson told Metro.co.uk: “Reducing the number of households in temporary accommodation is a priority for this Government. This is why we are investing over £750 million to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping next year. Our Homelessness Reduction Act has helped over 270,000 households who were homeless or at risk of homelessness into more permanent accommodation, since it came into force in 2018. We have given councils strong powers and incentives to tackle empty properties, including the power to increase council tax by up to 200%  – rising to 300% next year. They also receive the same New Homes Bonus for bringing an empty home back into use as for building a new one.”

seftPub App Helps Feed The Homeless

A father-of-two has helped feed thousands of homeless people across the UK by getting people to donate food using the Wetherspoons app.

Chris Illman runs the Facebook group ‘Wetherspoons the Game’, that helps people coordinate food donations for the homeless, reports the Metro. People use the group to post what table they are sitting at and others use the Wetherspoons app to send food over that then gets delivered to those in need. Mr Illman started the group in 2018, as a light-hearted way of seeing how many people would send drinks to his table.

But the 39-year old turned it into a good cause that now has 131,000 members who have helped donate over £10,000 worth of food. He said: “We’ve done nine feeds so far up and down the country. As soon as restrictions are eased we will be doing them all over the country again but currently we are doing them local.”

He added: “In Liverpool the night went mad. We were sent over £6,000 worth of food and drink in the space of two hours and it was mental. The system didn’t stop beeping. We were all running round like mad and the bar was covered in order tickets. It was probably one of the best nights of my life.”

“Even the lockdown hasn’t stopped us helping people. We were helping struggling families out by getting them a takeaway or a shop delivered completely anonymously. It’s such an amazing feeling, there’s no other way to put it really, seeing someone’s reaction when you turn up with stacks upon stacks of pizza is absolutely priceless. There’s been tears, smiles and lots of swearing.”

Currently the group is trying to help struggling families by giving them a Christmas dinner “after such a rough year”. Mr Illman wanted to use multiple Wetherspoons tables in different cities to carry out thousands of feeds this Christmas but says he needs to adjust their plans according to the tighter restrictions.

He said: ‘With the current climate we unfortunately can’t really plan anything. I’d love to be able to say we will be out every month feeding the homeless but we just don’t know what’s happening with the lockdown and tier restrictions. But don’t worry, we will be out there doing what we do as often as we possibly can. We also managed to help over 50 families with a takeaway and 20 families with some shopping, all bought by group members and sent directly to the families.”

Throughout the year the group have been delivering meals in cities across the UK depending on what restrictions have been in place in different times.  Mr Illman commended the “amazing people” on the group who once sent more than £6,000 worth of food in two hours. In Southampton they limited the donations to 200 pizzas, which had all been brought within 45 minutes.

“The way my family, friends and all of our members have responded has been incredible. It reminds you that the world is full of selfless, good people,” said Mr Illman.

‘Take One Leave One’ Launches For A Third Year

Starting from a simple idea in the winter of 2019 organisers have relaunched the initiative to help get warm clothes to people in need

During the cold winter of January 2019, a clothes rail was left outside Holy Redeemer church in Clerkenwell, Central London, reports the Big Issue. It was filled with coats, scarves and hats and could be used by people sleeping rough in the area or anybody who required warm clothing. The idea was simple: If you are cold, take an item of clothing. If you can help, leave one. The rail was replenished each day by volunteers.

Journalist Stefan Simanowitz, who launched the initiative, was blown away by the response. Clothes rails popped up in 30 towns and cities all over the UK. The idea even took off internationally, with copycat versions in parts of Europe, the US and Canada. Rails were put out again in January 2020 and now organisers have relaunched the scheme for a third winter. They hope Take One Leave One can replicate its previous successes, particularly in a world that has been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It’s helping people now who are facing hardship because of Covid,” Simanowitz told the Big Issue. “You don’t have to be homeless or a rough sleeper, you just have to be in need. If you feel you need a coat or some support then it’s there. It’s not policed, it just looks after itself, it replenishes itself.”

Simanowitz said the scheme was particularly timely. The relaunch took place in London’s Exmouth Market on Tuesday December 15, the day after it was revealed the number of people who died while experiencing homelessness hit a record high in 2019. Charity Crisis has said 200,000 households will be without a permanent home during the festive period, with some forced to sleep on the streets.

“With freezing temperatures hitting Britain, the Take One Leave One initiative offers a simple way to help rough sleepers and those hit by the lockdown,” Take One Leave One’s organisers said in a press release announcing the relaunch. It is hoped that this idea, which can be replicated in any town and on any street, will spread. The only requirements are a clothes rail, a banner and the goodwill of local people.”

The launch was accompanied by music performances and speeches. TV stars Gary Lineker, Rob Delaney and Emily Maitlis showed support on Twitter alongside legendary musician Boy George. But ultimately, Simanowitz described the clothes rails as a “sticking plaster” solution and said government action was needed to address the problem of homelessness.

“It’s not as if homelessness is something that can’t be solved, because ending homelessness isn’t some utopian dream,” he added. “All it requires is the will of the Government to act. You can see in Finland, they’ve got a housing-first policy which has virtually eradicated homelessness. But this is also showing that you don’t need to wait for the Government, you don’t need to be a celebrity like Marcus Rashford to have a platform to make a difference.”

“Right now, anyone can go and make a sign to put outside the house with some more clothes for a homeless person. Take One Leave One is showing that anybody can make a difference.”