In March 2020, when the call for ‘everyone in’ was issued, there were 83 known rough sleepers in Watford, all of whom were entrenched, had complex needs and demonstrated highly challenging behaviours.  

It was clear that unless something radical were done, this group would not only be in a life-threatening situation themselves but there would also be a huge transmission risk for the wider community.   

One YMCA stepped in and made it their mission to adapt, innovate and deliver to ensure this community were able to truly belong, contribute and thrive. As of March 2021, there were no active rough sleepers in Watford.

The MCISS utilises highly experienced mental health, offending and substance misuse specialists to deliver goal-orientated support on a trauma-informed basis. This combined approach ensures that the right type and amount of support is delivered in the right way, at the right time.

As a result, MCISS have created multiple micro-communities of only 22 residents, each with a dedicated team operating a secure and psychologically informed environment and delivering a highly effective service.

This approach has already seen 14 residents move on, as well as notable improvements in relation to substance misuse, and 100% of residents engaging with support and paying rent.  

MEWA (YMCA St Paul's Group)

Merton Emergency Winter Accommodation (MEWA) has been a community-driven project for the last nine years. It runs in response to the increasing issue of homelessness by providing vital shelter over the coldest winter months.   

In its pre-COVID form, the operation was a large-scale multi-faith project, using 20 different volunteer groups and their venues throughout Merton, including Christian churches, a Synagogue, a Mosque and a Hindu temple group operating out of a Methodist Church.

However, COVID forced the team to rethink how they operate entirely, and so they worked with Housing Justice, Public Health and Merton Council to develop plans in accordance with the Government’s ‘Operating Principles for Night Shelters’ guidance.  

Instead of the existing multisite communal approach, the project was run from a single five-bedroom flat in Wimbledon. Using community funding, the team were able to comfortably furnish the flat and provide high-quality accommodation for people who were previously street homeless.  

Guests were supported 24/7 by MEWA’s brilliant volunteers and a small team of paid staff, with daily hot breakfasts and dinners provided by a faith-based volunteer network and delivered at a distance.   

In November 2020, MEWA successfully applied for funding from Homeless Link and Housing Justice which enabled them to book rooms at a local Premier Inn for people they were unable to house in the single flat. The team also made sure that all guests were aware that MEWA provisions were a short-term solution and that they would work on finding longer-term or permanent accommodation to best match their needs.  

From November 2020, MEWA kept 13 people off London streets, 10 of whom went on to secure permanent accommodation by the end of the project on 31 May 2021.  

St Michael's House (YMCA Cheltenham)

St Michael’s House is a 16-bed low support project based in the city centre of Gloucester.  Their goal is to prepare residents to move onto independent living and break the cycle of homelessness. Since opening in 2015, St Michael’s House has endeavoured to build a community that celebrates diversity and empowers individuals to become the best versions of themselves.  

Their approach to support is one of strength and positivity, believing that by celebrating a person’s success, their self-esteem and confidence improve greatly, thereby empowering them to tackle any challenge they may face.  

From the moment St Michael’s House takes on a resident, they aim to make them feel as welcome and comfortable as possible. A welcome pack is provided on arrival, which includes toiletries and a welcome booklet explaining what will happen within the first four weeks of their stay. The team finds this to be helpful in reducing anxiety around living in supported accommodation for the first time.   

During COVID, a wide range of measures were put in place to support residents to be able to self-isolate safely, including organising virtual activities to combat loneliness. With the use of social media, they were also able to maintain contact with residents, encouraging them to continue to develop the skills and resilience needed for moving on.  

Over the last twelve months, St Michael’s House has seen 16 out of 17 residents move on to independent living. This is a testament to both the young people’s perseverance and resilience and the supportive and nurturing environment that the team at St Michael’s work hard to create.  

2021 Youth Matters Awards Finalists