'We lost our jobs - and within three days were sleeping rough in woods in Doncaster'

When Doncaster couple Rachel and Russell East lost their jobs on a caravan park, they did not just find themselves out of work.

By David Kessen
Wednesday, 18th November 2020, 12:30 pm

As part of their job, they had been living in a caravan on the site. But with the unexpected end of their work came the end of their having a roof over their heads.

For the first weekend after losing the caravan in which they had been staying, on October 31, the couple were put up in a hotel. A friend paid for the accommodation over the Saturday and the Sunday nights.

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Stock - homeless rough sleeper

But by the Monday night, November 2, they had nowhere to go. They slept rough, in woods near Carcroft.

With the coronavirus pandemic, officials say Doncaster has seen a ‘significant’ increase in families facing homelessess – but they are trying to make sure no one has to sleep rough.

It has resulted in dozens being put into hotel accommodation – although a handful are still on the streets.

Rachel and Russell lost their caravan on Saturday October 31. They rang the council, but were told it was unable to sort something out at the weekend. They rang again on the Monday, and someone called them back later in the day.

Restover Lodge Hotel

But they had problems meeting requirements that needed to be met by the end of the day to get a roof over their heads that night. Russell needed a copy of his birth certificate, but couldn’t get one. Eventually they got a note from their GP to confirm who he was – but not until the Tuesday.

In the meantime, they had to spend the night sleeping rough.

Rachel, aged 34, who is epileptic and has a lung condition, said: “It was awful.

"We made a little hut out of plastic sheets and blankets.

Wharf House, Doncaster

"I felt extremely vulnerable.

"The next day we walked from Carcroft to Doncaster because we had no money for buses.

"With hindsight, it would have probably helped us if they’d contacted us earlier on the Monday.”

On the Tuesday, the council arranged for them to move to the Restover Lodge, near White Rose Way.

"The hotel staff have been brilliant,” said Rachel. “And I can’t thank the people at the council who helped us enough. I never thought I’d be having to sleep rough."

She hopes eventually they will get a flat.

Steve Waddington, director of housing and customer services for St Leger Homes, which runs Doncaster’s council housing, said he could not comment on the situation the Easts found themselves in.

But he said generally, since the beginning of the pandemic the approach was to ensure no one has to sleep rough. Despite that, officials are aware of nine people sleeping rough.

He said: “We have supported over 400 individuals into both dispersed temporary homes and hotel accommodation, with a significant number also moving out of temporary accommodation to more permanent solutions. Currently we have 85 households placed in hotel accommodation.

“It is vitally important that anyone who finds themselves at risk of homeless contacts our Home Options Service by calling 01302 736000 or emailing [email protected] The earlier we can support people the more chance we have helping them avoid becoming homeless and having to assist them to find new accommodation.

“The pandemic has resulted in a significant increase in the number of people facing homelessness in Doncaster, however through our multi agency response we have managed to help prevent the vast number of people having nowhere to live and kept the level of rough sleeping very low.

“The current number of people sleeping rough in Doncaster is nine, all of who have been offered accommodation and support, but have either chosen not to accept it or lost accommodation as a result of their behaviour.”

Social housing organisation Riverside, who run Wharf House and Open House Plus, to provide supported accommodation, as well as Doncaster Homelessness Outreach Service and Doncaster Tenancy Support Service, is also aware of people sleeping rough.

Doncaster area manager, Colin West, said: “There are 58 people at Wharf House and Open House Plus including our emergency bed provision at both services. Our outreach service provides support to rough sleepers on the streets of Doncaster, and we believe numbers are currently less than 10.

“Prior to the pandemic, there was a higher number of street homeless at this time of year. However many are now in emergency accommodation in hotels as part of the government’s Everybody In campaign to protect rough sleepers from the spread of the virus.

“We are now seeing an increase in the number of people who are homeless who have contracted the Covid virus compared to the start of the pandemic in March. But thanks to a multi-agency approach, Doncaster is managing to control the virus successfully by ensuring accommodation is available for people to self-isolate safely.

“Anyone who needs an emergency bed provision can be referred to the service by contacting Doncaster Council’s out-of-hours service on 01302 341628.

“Riverside also has a ‘No Second Night Out’ outreach service which actively engages with entrenched rough sleepers on the streets of Doncaster looking to support them with a variety of issues that include access to accommodation, physical and mental health, and support around substance misuse and harm reduction.

“While Doncaster Tenancy Support Service provides tenancy support for people who have secured their own accommodation. The Riverside team helps and assists them to live independently and sustain their tenancy. The service had to adapt to new ways of engaging with people to overcome restrictions with the majority of support offered over the telephone when lockdown began in March.”

If you see a rough sleeper call Riverside’s rapid response team on 01302 558014 or email [email protected]

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.