What challenges have you faced over the last month?

I would like to start by giving an update on our focus over the last month. The biggest challenge has been continuing to keep all our staff, volunteers and the people that use our services safe from COVID-19. It’s been a constant concern of mine ever since last March. I know that many of our staff have now had the first vaccine but, we still have the risk of transmission. I take it incredibly seriously, the last thing I want is to lose any members of staff, volunteers or anyone using our services due to Covid.

A lot of focus has been on the reopening of our services, as we progress into the roadmap out of lockdown. The training centre in Plymouth has reopened and Endeavour House in Torbay will be opening again at the end of the month. As the months go on, a lot of our time and attention will go into the planning of opening things such as our charity shops. We must revisit all the risk assessments that we have in place, ensuring that we have all the sufficient PPE Equipment. That is my priority at the moment.

How has the collaboration with the Alliance been over the last month?

The Alliance continues to do great work in Plymouth. I would say that out of every tragedy, some good has got to come out of it. The Alliance and the investment in the Alliance from all the agencies in Plymouth are something positive that has come out of the crisis. Due to this incredible work, it is no surprise to me that we probably have the lowest number of rough sleepers I have seen on the streets of Plymouth in the past 18 years. I have friends that run services all around the country and I think that Plymouth is doing a lot better than other areas, I absolutely put that down to the Alliance.

Shekinah and the Alliance are continuing to ensure people who are sleeping on the streets are offered accommodation and the majority of these people are accepting these offers. A small proportion of people have been reluctant to take up these offers and we recognise that there are a variety of reasons as to why this is. However, these people are still receiving support. It's very unusual based on history to be able to make a statement that says everybody who is on the street has been offered accommodation and that's fantastic.  

Winter provision opened during the last month. We've got two self-contained pods, with eight individual rooms that have been installed at Hamoaze House. If you think back to how cold the weather was a few weeks ago, it is reassuring to have that provision in place. What was clear this year is that we couldn’t do our traditional weather provision because the government are not allowing us to provide any dormitory-style accommodation due to Coronavirus restrictions. When we found out a couple of months ago that we would have to offer individual rooms, there was some panic, but the Alliance pulled together and it has been a great success. 

How many people have been given accommodation?

Plymouth has been a great success. We’ve accommodated more people in the last three months through Bath Street than we had done in the last 18 months during the old pre-Covid way of working.

For Torbay, it has been more challenging because we don't have access to a lot of accommodation like we do in Plymouth. Torbay is a different landscape, it’s quite difficult. That’s not a reflection on the local authority, it’s a reflection on the lack of access to affordable accommodation in the area. The Housing First team have continued to keep people in their properties, which is great, and the hostel is continuing to do their work.

Are there any good news stories from the past month?

We are continuing to look at a potential relocation for Shekinah, with the development of the Boulevard. I've been catapulted into the world of construction this month, working with surveyors, architects and various people from the construction industry. I had a great meeting with Carl Hislop from Obedair Construction. We had a really useful talk about his ongoing support for Shekinah, which is fantastic and about whether he can get involved in any planned moves that we make.

How has this lockdown differed from previous lockdowns?

I know for myself, in particular, I’m getting tired of lockdowns, if I'm honest. We just want to get back to doing what we do best which is helping people. For the people that use our services, it has been very difficult. They are in desperate need of some kind of human contact and face-to-face support, it is very tiring for them. I am not disagreeing with the lockdowns; I know that they have been necessary, It’s just frustrating.

What has been your main focus this month?

I think moving forward, our focus needs to change. We need to get back to what I call ‘prevention work’ so that rather than waiting for someone to be on the street for 3–4 years before we start thinking that they might need help, we should be intervening far earlier. We need to focus on lots more education, training and meaningful activities.

We certainly want to build on the work of the GP outreach service. We are hoping to reopen the GP outreach service in the next few weeks through a City Council grant that we have received. The GPs have made it Covid safe (as far as Covid safe it can be) so that will reopen. In the new building, our focus on health-related services will increase, so watch this space!

Despite the changes that are being made, I am adamant that we need to retain services for people who are still sleeping rough because nobody should have to sleep on the streets in this day and age. The changes that we make will not affect our dedication to offering accommodation to people.

What has stood out to you over the last month?

I'm humbled by the dedication and commitment of the Shekinah staff and that's both in Plymouth and Torbay. They have been absolute heroes through this process. Whenever I talk about what we are doing, people are very surprised that we are still offering any sort of face-to-face support. I think it shows the level of dedication from the Shekinah staff that we have been able to continue providing support throughout the pandemic. It is inspirational.

What is your message for the month?

A message I try to get across to staff is that you’ve got to believe that things will get better. With all the deaths, all the suffering, all the job losses and the state of the economy, it is easy to end up in a downward spiral of depression and worry. Something is reassuring about that kind of belief that things will get better and I genuinely think that they will. I acknowledge that there is a lot of sorrow and distress in the world. My heart goes out to those people who have lost family members through this pandemic. We’ve got to hold onto the belief that things will get better. Each morning, the sun will come up and will hold the potential for a fresh start.

John Hamblin 

Chief Executive Shekinah

A special thank you to Sophie Fisher for co-producing this month's blog.