Happy to house the homeless - Big Issue North article from 20-26 July
Hoteliers speak of positive experience
Kangley couple make offer for the long-term
The owner of a Sheffield city centre hotel that has been accommodating homeless people through the lockdown says he would be willing to continue supporting them after the pandemic if he had the backing of the government and local authority.
At the end of March the government followed the lead of California by funding the accommodation of rough sleepers in hotels and offices. Around 45,000 people, many vulnerable to Covid-19 because of respiratory and other health problems, were housed under the Everyone In policy.
24 hour deadline
Sheffield City Council asked Grant Kangley to accommodate rough sleepers at the 16-bedroom Dalbury and Palmer Hotel in Sheffield’s Antiques Quarter.
Kangley, who bought the hotel five years ago to add to the two he and his wife Anne own in North Wales, said: “After meeting the council it was decided after discussions with staff that because of
the often chaotic nature of homeless people we should play safe, take just three people and see how it went. We were also concerned that some local residents would complain if all the hotel was used by homeless people.”
But the council wanted to take over the entire hotel. People needed to be taken off the streets and safely housed within 24 hours. Family rooms at the hotel were converted within eight hours into single rooms. Almost before staff knew it homeless people were at the hotel.
“I must admit that the first week was slightly scary,” said Zoe Burke, aged 27, who had just been appointed manager, with her partner Jordan also employed with responsibility for security. Having always worked in hospitality, she had been looking forward to priorities such as building
up business in the new restaurant.
“We had been told only negative things about the people we were now hosting. I suppose the council has to highlight the problems that homeless people are facing, such as drug and alcohol abuse, but also there was a suspicion amongst people that we would police them and keep them permanently indoors.”
In normal times, rooms at the boutique hotel – “each with its own story, with some nice finishing touches”, according to Kangley – cost £85-£95 during weekdays and more at weekends, when it had generally been fully booked. But all visitors had cancelled reservations just before the lockdown.
Kangley and Burke admit they had never previously considered homeless people’s needs but they soon began to understand their new guests, some of whom were asylum seekers while others had been recently released from prison.
“A mutual respect was quickly established. I heard some difficult stories and soon realised many homeless people have just fallen, often very quickly, on hard times and can’t recover without help,” said Burke.
Begin living a better life
One of those who moved into the hotel was Nick, a trained chef who had become homeless after losing his job, becoming ill and then getting into difficulties with claiming benefits he was entitled to. As well as sleeping rough Nick had been staying with friends. They had to turn him away once the advice on how to tackle Covid-19 included telling people not to accommodate anyone outside their own families.
After the council agreed with Kangley’s request for the hotel to provide everyone staying there with breakfast and an evening meal, Nick was asked to do some cooking. The council has since found Nick permanent accommodation and he hopes to find work again once as a chef.
Nick is grateful for his accommodation at the Dalbury and Palmer. “I hope anyone who needs it can be moved into the room I was using. Having a place to live, even temporarily, makes it easier for other agencies including the council to make contact and start helping homeless people to begin living a better life.”
Ann Clarkson moved from Grimsby to Sheffield a year ago. She had worked full time for over three decades. Her last job, for 13 years, was a supervisor at Howden Kitchens. But she got breast cancer, which damaged her mental welfare, even though she overcame it. She loved her dog and, when it was stolen and the police refused her request to investigate the person she believed had taken it, she sought her own revenge and was arrested.
This first ever offence resulted in just over a month in prison and she was living on the Sheffield
streets when Framework, a street outreach project run by a local housing association, found her outside Sheffield Cathedral and gave her a bus ticket to get to the Dalbury and Palmer. She too helped make meals at the hotel, laughing that it kept her out of mischief. But she knows she would otherwise have been living in a squat or doorway this summer.
“Covid-19 might, if projects such as this can continue for a while, really help homeless people,” said Clarkson. “But I am concerned that if people are moved on without ongoing help they won’t be able to cope. The manager and staff here have helped create a community and people feel safe.”
She wants to use her considerable work skills to set up a café as she likes cooking and has arranged to meet the Together Women Project after lockdown has ended to discuss how to take her ideas forward.
Like Clarkson, Burke fears for homeless people if this support is removed.
“This is the best thing I have ever done,” she said.
“I can get quite emotional about it and I have developed some great friendships. For some guests this experience will help greatly in the future but I worry about others who currently have support, including being able to discuss things that worry them.”
Kangley added: “The vast majority of homeless people who have stayed at the hotel have been very friendly, kept the place clean and also done many spare jobs such as gardening. I’d be happy to continue doing this for a while but that is up to the government and the council. Whatever happens I intend taking a keen interest in tackling homelessness in the future.”
Sheffield City Council did not respond to Big Issue North’s request for comment.
20-26 July 2020