In the last week of March, Tabor House decanted guests, staff, and a mountain of PPE to the Holiday Inn in the city centre. As a dormitory setting, it was imperative that we moved our guests to a place where they could self-isolate.
As the weeks went on, our original six were joined by 47 other guests, rehoused from rough sleeping situations. Working with Birmingham City Council, we began an initiative to provide these guests with the same support we offered to those from Tabor House.
Sharon Fear, Tabor House’s project leader, and caseworker Lisa Hoftijzer oversaw the initiative, aided by agency workers, including a qualified social worker and those with extensive experience in the homeless community. As we were required to be present in the hotel 24/7, their help was invaluable, as was Ben Rafiki’s (part of the iShelter board), who stayed overnight, every night.
Once the guests had settled, we began to work on their individual needs. We supported them with establishing benefits, arranging medication, food parcels, and move-on housing, as well as more client-centred personal support.
As time went on, we were joined by other agencies, such as Cranstoun, Shelter, Crisis, Trident, St Basil’s, and Aquarius to establish wraparound support for when we, inevitably, had to step back from the initiative.
We worked with them to ensure guests did not go from Holiday Inn to an empty house – keys alone do not make a home, and many of our guests had never maintained a property before. There was amazing sleight of hands to get the most for the least, and the Tabor House team ensured everyone moved into a property with a least a bed, white goods, and basic furniture.
Everybody needed to be out of the hotel by 15 June, which was a day to remember! There were few goodbyes, as all guests at Tabor House had our work numbers and, to this day, we are involved in helping them tie up loose ends.
Meanwhile, back at Tabor House, Christy Acton (Deputy communities project manager) was working hard to establish our new normal. We returned on 23 June to a very new Tabor. Before guests could return, measures had to be taken to prevent the virus from entering and spreading throughout the new 24-hour supported accommodation.
Christy consulted with Birmingham City Council’s public health, Friels Construction’s health and safety panel, and our own policies while planning our re-opening, and these consultations are ongoing. It is vital that we stay alert and do not become complacent as we move through this crisis. Prevention is the key to this.
We have changed our model of support to ensure we can continue to support our guests while complying with Government and health advice. Whereas, previously, guests vacated the shelter during the day, now non-working guests will be encouraged to stay in Tabor House throughout the day, and follow government guidelines regarding social distancing should they leave.
Stringent new guidelines apply, with temperature checks and two-hourly cleaning of mutually touched furnishings, such as bathrooms, taps and door handles. Guest will stay in one of eight individual pods of Perspex and toughened glass. Not only easy to clean, these transparent walls will help keep the open, inclusive atmosphere we have always striven to maintain.
Similarly, numbers of volunteers will be reduced, with paid staff rotating through shifts to ensure suitable cover. One of the major challenges of the pandemic for us has been having to ask our volunteers to stand down for the interim. Their support is invaluable, so Sharon Fear has been writing regular e-bulletins while at the hotel, and volunteer co-ordinator Sharon McCall has been holding zoom meetings, so everyone stays in the loop and has the chance to ask questions.
Social distancing will be practiced within Tabor House, with definitive guidelines on how many people are allowed in any of the rooms (kitchen, laundry etc) at any one time. Meals will now be prepared for a two-sitting timetable, which is a challenge to our ethos as the evening meal, in particular was looked forward to as a time of mutual gathering and community.
We were proud to lead the rough sleeping initiative at Holiday Inn, but we are delighted to finally be ‘home’ and take Tabor House forward safely in these difficult times.
Tabor House will re-open to guests on 27 July 2020. To find out how to make a referral, call 0121 647 5106.