Up to the outbreak of Covid-19, First Base was supporting around 70 people each day who were sleeping rough on the streets of Brighton and Hove.
The City Council, supported by various charities, did a phenomenal job getting well over 400 homeless people into temporary accommodation, at least half of whom became homeless after the first lockdown. First Base supported these efforts, becoming the main hub in the city for the completion of Covid-19 related referrals to emergency accommodation.
As a result of the pandemic, First Base has reviewed and updated what it offers.
Although the number of people sleeping rough on the streets dropped dramatically, First Base remained open to those remaining on the streets who, for a number of reasons felt unable to move into accommodation (usually because of mental health problems), and the six to 12 people we have seen each week who are new to rough sleeping.
We are thankful that our building allows social distancing measures to be put in place. In order to maintain the safety of our clients and staff, we limited the number of clients who can be in the centre at any one time to fifteen.
We have continued to provide essential facilities, such as showers, food and drink, and clean and dry clothes. With fewer clients in the building at any one time our staff are able to do more in-depth work with those using First Base, with a focus on helping people move away from homelessness. This work includes helping those people who wish to reconnect with families and the communities from where they came.
Relocation and reconnection, always undertaken voluntarily by clients and usually at their request, has been challenging, especially when there are language barriers to overcome. In recent weeks staff at First Base have helped two men from Romania who were rough sleeping to return home. They came to the UK on the promise of work but found the promise to be empty. They ended up sleeping rough.
With our help the two were supported to obtain the documentation and take the necessary Covid tests required for them to return home. We called them last week to check they were OK and they told us they are back living with their mother.
Staff at First Base have also played an important support role for those placed in temporary accommodation during the pandemic. Members of our staff have spent time visiting clients in the temporary accommodation, and we have made facilities at First Base, such as computers and free Wifi available for accommodated clients, helping people maintain their benefit claims and keep in touch with family and friends.
BHT lobbied for people who are homeless to be vaccinated, along with the staff who continue to support them. A mobile vaccination vehicle is visiting First Base and other BHT services so that clients can receive their vaccination.
First Base has stayed open and although it has changed in response to the pandemic, the expert care and support provided by our staff remains constant. First Base continues to be the cornerstone of the city’s response to rough sleeping during the pandemic, and for whatever will come next.