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Caring for Homeless People in Windsor: More Than a Shelter

March 15, 2020 8:00 PM
By Cllr Amy Tisi

More Than A Shelter

Until they were stopped in this year's budget, all councillors were given an allowance, which they could donate to a good cause of their choice. Having followed the project last year, and hearing lots of good things about More Than A Shelter - Windsor, I decided to direct my allowance to them and on Tuesday evening, I popped down to see the project in action during their final week.

The shelter has run for an 8 week period this winter and rotates around a number of churches in Windsor, who have all given their spaces to accommodate an evening meal and beds for around 12-14 guests.

After a lovely evening chatting to volunteers and guests, I came away with lots of questions and avenues to follow up and shared my observations with Cllr Helen Price, who is looking closely at this issue, as well as the Lead Member, Cllr Ross McWilliams.

  • John West house- is it open to women some of the time or none of the time? I was concerned to hear that women have been turned away to accommodate more men. Is this true? If so, what are we doing to protect women, who are particularly vulnerable when sleeping rough?
  • There seemed some confusion about what the criteria is for 'having links to the borough'. It was mentioned that someone who had a wife and children was not considered by this criteria.
  • How long is it before someone is considered to be a 'resident of the borough' and do they have to have been housed during this time? Does it count if they've slept rough here for 3 years? 5 years?
  • Supporting people who have come to the borough for legitimate reasons: How do we tackle these cases sensitively without opening the flood gates to people from other boroughs? An example was given of a young man who was told by the police to leave the London area for his own safety. He cannot present to that authority for housing as he is not safe there.
  • How is it that people with severe preexisting medical issues are not housed? What are the barriers to them being housed as a priority?
  • The need for a hostel/shelter in Windsor was mentioned by nearly everyone I spoke to. Maidenhead really is a world away when you have no car and no money for public transport. Many of the guests also said they have friends and other links to Windsor and hate being uprooted to the shelter in Slough (where they felt unsafe) or Maidenhead which was also unfamiliar. Opening a permanent hostel/shelter in Windsor should be a priority.
  • Disappointment that no RBWM officers were not able to visit the project during its run. This did happen last year and was instrumental in gaining ongoing support for guests.
  • I am concerned that this year MTaS have not been able to start as many people on the pathway to housing as last year and I think the reasons for this should be explored more carefully.

Overall, I was utterly impressed with the kindness and individual approach that is given to each guest using the shelter.The volunteers had formed good relationships with guests and there was plenty of light-hearted banter. Yvonne Conroy who leads the project deserves a special mention for her dedication and care. Just spending one evening in the company of these amazing people has made me keen to help next year if I can!

Finally, I'll finish with this thought. Whilst many people were making the most of all the shelter had to offer, some regular guests were staying away and the mood of some of those present on Tuesday was subdued. They all realised that the shelter would end on Saturday 14th and that they would be back out on the streets again.

The ones staying away suggested that they needed to get used to sleeping in the cold again.

~Amy

amy.tisi@windsorlibdems.org.uk