Big Issue vendor Craig O’Shea in Truro Photo: Laura Harris
This week not only marks a year since the first Covid-19 lockdown changed life as we know it – it marks the most substantial effort to end street homelessness in the UK’s history through the Everyone In scheme.
The Westminster Government took the “unprecedented action” of launching Everyone In on March 26 last year. In total, 37,000 people have been put up in hotels, B&Bs and other emergency accommodation through the scheme – a figure nine times the official rough sleeping count.
As well as uncovering the scale of homelessness, the scheme has undoubtedly saved lives – University College London experts found 266 people would have died without the intervention during the first lockdown.
UK ministers have thrown money at the problem – £750 million will be spent on protecting people in hotels and finding them a permanent home with ministers last week announcing £212m to find 6,000 homes for rough sleepers alongside wraparound support to keep them housed.
The Everyone In scheme has been a unique social experiment in a time of crisis – ushering in a Housing First-type policy at breakneck speed. The unprecedented action was a simple response to a complex issue and has changed the lives of Big Issue vendors around the country – some for good, others less so. Here’s how four vendors fared in a year like no other:
“I am in such a good place right now. I couldn’t imagine being like this before the pandemic”
Darren Goldrick had spent 10 years sleeping out on the streets or on friends’ sofas before the Covid-19 pandemic – now he’s “over the moon” to have his own place after a whirlwind trip from tent to modular home.
The Cambridge Big Issue vendor, 47, spent nine months sleeping rough during the pandemic before reaching out to local outreach teams for support in December after the field where he pitched his tent flooded.
Darren moved into a hotel for a few weeks before making the switch to a modular home provided by local charity Jimmy’s in early March.
“It’s amazing, absolutely amazing. I’m over the moon with it. So many people worked so hard to get this place for me,” said Darren, who can stay in the home for as long as he needs.
“I was happier outside back in the first lockdown but things are starting to ache and crack and creak more and more now when I get up in the morning so I thought it was time to come indoors.
“It was amazing to be able to shut the door, lock it, lie down and go to sleep. Even something like having running water has been fantastic.”
It was a life-changing month for The Big Issue vendor, who also received his Covid-19 vaccine as rough sleepers were given priority access to receive the potentially life-saving jabs.
“Things are really looking up for me, I can’t believe it,” said Darren. “I am in such a good place right now. I couldn’t imagine being like this before the pandemic. I couldn’t imagine being housed. I did love being outside but now I realise I wasn’t doing my body any good being out in the cold all the time.”
“You start living in your own mind like Tom Hanks in Castaway”
Dave Campion ended a spell of 15 years on the streets last summer when he moved into a Newton Abbot Premier Inn hotel last in March 2020 before getting a one-bedroom flat two months later. At the time, he told The Big Issue: “The light at the end of the tunnel is actually pretty bright.”
But the winter lockdown has taken its toll on the 40-year-old, who sells the magazine outside Ryder’s Bakery in Dawlish, Devon and now he believes he was “far better off” on the streets.
Dave insists the mental strain of being alone indoors over the winter months and financial struggles have seen his mood sour on Everyone In.
“When you’re single like I am and you don’t even talk to anyone, you start living in your own mind like Tom Hanks in Castaway,” said Dave.
“I’ve been getting some support for The Big Issue, don’t get me wrong I’m grateful to that, but my problem is with the government.
“In total a month I get £480 including Big Issue shopping vouchers, I pay £100 in service charges and that leaves me £380 to live on a month – who can live on that?”
Now Dave is unsure whether he will continue staying in the property.
He added: “I was far better off on the streets. I didn’t want to go inside in the first place, I did it to go along with the council and now I feel like I’m being punished for it.
“The effects on my mental health in lockdown have been worse than when I was on the street too.”
“The Big Issue gives me that control and makes me feel like I’m a human being and I matter”
For Richard Cotterill, the biggest challenge of the Everyone In scheme has been the loss of his independence.
Former trekker Richard has spent time in a Travelodge hotel and sleeping in a shed during the pandemic and is currently housed in a homeless hostel.
Richard told The Big Issue: “Lockdown has affected me in an absolutely horrible way. I’ve been reduced to absolutely nothing. But I’m fortunate in that I’ve got a roof over my head – I’m now in a homeless hostel which has a lot of restrictions and curfews.”
The Wadebridge vendor, 50, has come to lament those restrictions and is looking forward to returning to his pitch to regain his independence.
“I want to go back to selling The Big Issue because I have more control over my own destiny through that. I can take control of my life and I can take private rented accommodation.
“The Big Issue gives me that control and makes me feel like I’m a human being and I matter. That’s the most important thing to me – my identity and my self-sufficiency is more important than any accommodation could ever be.”
“I didn’t think I’d be able to change my life in this way in just one year”
Originally refusing council support to stay in his tent, Craig, 34, had a change of heart last August and moved into a flat provided by Cornwall Housing, Truro City Council and homelessness charity St Petrocs through the Everyone In scheme.
That has been the platform for Craig to restart the bicycle repair business he was forced to abandon when he was evicted from a property in his native Manchester. He is now studying on a business course with the School of Social Entrepreneurs to build up the business.
Craig said: “I don’t miss sleeping rough in my tent at all. I prefer to be where I am now than where I was a year ago – I’ve even had my first vaccine. Not bad for a 34-year-old!
“I didn’t think I’d be able to change my life in this way in just one year. I’ve almost become the face of the campaign locally for Everyone In.”
The vendor, who sells the magazine at Mallett’s hardware store in Truro, is now hoping his business will give him the opportunity to move on from The Big Issue in the future. He added: “I want to keep on moving forward.”
“It took a pandemic for the Government to do something and it still isn’t perfect”
Peter has now spent more than 12 months living in the same hotel room after four years of living out on the streets – he’s not sure the change is for him.
The London Big Issue vendor – who sells the magazine at Westminster Station – has been stationed at a Paddington hotel since two weeks before the first lockdown but while he is “thankful” for the support, he told The Big Issue that he can’t see a future indoors.
“I refused initially because I didn’t want to go indoors and I felt like there were people more in need of it than me,” he said.
“I’d rather be outside to be honest – I’ve had more go wrong with me than when I was on the streets. I’ve had colds and stuff like that, halfway through I felt not well and got checked over by ambulance staff for Covid. I didn’t have it but they told me I had high blood pressure and I said: “That’s that bloody room! It’s driving me mad.”
Peter has been offered permanent accommodation but has, so far, struggled to see how he could adapt to a new life off the streets.
“It took a pandemic for the Government to do something and it still isn’t perfect,” he said.
“I went to look at a room and it was tiny, there was no room to swing a cat. I told them I wouldn’t be able to live in that, it would kill me. I’d rather carry on doing what I’ve been doing – staying with friends, having one or two nights out.
“It’s good they’re doing it to get people off the streets. It’s what I fight for and why I help people but, as for me, I can’t be stuck in a room like that.”
Your local vendor is at the sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis this Winter. Prices of energy and food are rising rapidly. As is the cost of rent. All at their highest rate in 40 years. Vendors are amongst the most vulnerable people affected. Support our vendors to earn as much as they can and give them a fighting chance this Winter.