Coronavirus: How Portsmouth council's 'safe space' for rough sleepers caused controversy with anti-social behaviour

AS LIFE began to change for everyone at the start of the coronavirus lockdown, fears were raised about how some of the area’s most vulnerable people would stay safe.

Tuesday, 23rd June 2020, 7:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 23rd June 2020, 9:09 am
A police dispersal zone was put in place around the Ibis Hotel in Fratton Way. Pictured on 22 June 2020. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Local authorities were tasked by government with providing accommodation for rough sleepers and those facing homelessness – also known as the hidden homeless – allowing them to self-isolate.

In April, Portsmouth City Council announced it had secured homes for more than 200 people in need of them. These were largely in hotels across the city.

For many this proved to be a lifeline, not just allowing them to shield from the deadly virus, but offered a more stable home coupled with the offer of specialist support for mental health and drug and alcohol issues.

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Anti-social dispersal order sign outside Ibis Hotel, Portsmouth on 22 June 2020. Picture: Habibur Rahman

That has brought about a clash with people living nearby at the Ibis Hotel in Fratton Way. Police have been repeatedly called to the hotel, and security have been brought in. One resident has moved out of a neighbouring block because of the problems.

Police have established an anti-social behaviour dispersal area, giving officers powers to move people on.

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Rough sleepers to self-isolate in hotels

But Councillor Darren Sanders, the council's housing cabinet member, said the scheme has helped homeless people.

Ibis hotel in Fratton Way, Portsmouth, currenlty being used to house homeless people during the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Google

He said: ‘Over 100 individuals were hidden homeless or have become homeless since the coronavirus pandemic due to a breakdown in a relationship or insecure accommodation.

'These individuals were not previously accessing support and are now able to do so. Every individual has a housing caseworker to support them with a personalised housing plan.

‘Specialist support is available to those needing help with health issues, including mental health and support with drug and alcohol issues.

‘This is being supported by our community wardens, the youth service, library services, catering staff from the civic office's staff cafe and The Hub, as well as support from Hive Portsmouth.'

More than 200 rough sleepers and hidden homeless have been found homes amid the pandemic

Local homelessness charities, The Society of St James and Two Saints, are also continuing to work with the council to ensure everyone can access support.

Resident Mike, who did not want to be full identified, was housed in a city hotel after a breakdown in his relationship and losing his job.

‘I was staying in lodgings when this all kicked off and the man I was staying with was older and had underlying health conditions so I had to move on,’ he said.

‘I spoke to the council and they said they'd help me to find somewhere to stay and put me up in the ibis hotel. I was there for a few nights and kept myself to myself but there were never any problems for me.

‘They looked after me well and the support staff couldn’t do enough. They even helped me to carry all of my bags and help me move in. I've moved on now and I'm in a private rental and I'm going back to work a week on Monday.'

However, it is not known how long this offer of hotel accommodation will remain in Portsmouth.

A council spokesman said: 'This arrangement will be in place until further notice. We are undertaking housing assessments with all the residents and working with the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government task force to find options for permanent accommodation.'

And various reports by neighbouring residents of anti-social behaviour and crime suggest there have been problems along the way.

The Ibis Hotel, in Fratton Way, is one of the hotels providing accommodation for rough sleepers during the pandemic.

In response the council has employed a security team to patrol the immediate areas 24 hours a day. The first security company hired for the job was replaced by a second.

Cllr Sanders said: ‘We will continue to work with our colleagues at Hampshire Constabulary to deal with any incidence of criminality and anti-social behaviour to ensure the safety and wellbeing of local residents, our guests at the hotel and everyone involved with the work to support them.’

Gilles Mattern, general manager of the Ibis Hotel, added: ‘We have been proud to support the work of the council and all the partners over the last few weeks.

‘This has been a fantastic multi-partner collaboration and a “people-first” initiative the city should be proud of.

‘Whilst there have been some challenges the result is that together we have helped to protect and change lives and we are enormously proud to be part of that.’

In Gosport the council set up temporary homeless shelters for up to 60 people in a car park.

Fareham Borough Council has provided fully equipped self-catering accommodation and separate bed and breakfast accommodation to all rough sleepers during the pandemic.

And five flats in Fareham were repaired and furnished to be used by rough sleepers.

‘Almost daily 999 reports’ made about the Southsea Ibis Hotel

RESIDENTS neighbouring the Ibis Hotel in Fratton Way have said incidents of anti-social behaviour and noise have caused people to move away during lockdown.

One resident of Vista apartments, which is next door to the hotel, said: ‘There has been constant anti-social behaviour and crime with fights and drunken attacks on various people.

‘The local police appear to be inundated with dealing with the impact of Covid-19 and this situation is clearly stretching their resources to the maximum or even worse.

‘Residents of Vista have continually complained to the council and police with almost daily 999 reports of various crimes and anti-social behaviour.'

The 62-year-old defence support worker added: ‘I understand at least one or two Vista residents have been unable to attend work due to lack of sleep and deteriorating health.

‘Due to the Covid-19 restrictions residents of Vista are unable to move out to other locations for any respite from the situation at the Ibis. Residents of Vista are suffering daily and their own mental health is being severely impacted.’

His neighbour, a 39-year-old care support worker, moved out of her flat of four years at Vista apartments because of the situation. She said: ‘In all my years here I've never experienced anything like it.

‘I have been working through the whole of lockdown but it got to the point where I wasn't sleeping because of the noise from the hotel residents.

‘They would be out in the middle of the night shouting and fighting. I know the council is concerned about the mental health of the people there but they need to consider the mental health of us as well.’

A spokeswoman for Hampshire police said: ‘We are aware of concerns from residents and businesses concerning anti-social behaviour in the area, we will respond to reports of crime and we are continuing patrols in the area.’

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