Hundreds of Birmingham’s homeless families are to be put up in some of the city’s premiere hotels and apartments from now on in a deal hailed as a major breakthrough in raising standards.
The game changing move means families in crisis will no longer end up in down-at-heel B&Bs, nor suffer the misery of being crammed into too-small rooms without access to decent food, space or play.
Instead they will get to stay in high-standard rooms and apartments, complete with hot breakfasts, free wifi, play areas and full access to facilities.
Birmingham City Council has partnered with Staywell Hospitality Management (SWHM) – which manages a range of high end hotels and apartments in the city – on the game-changing deal.
It was created out of the pandemic crisis but with the aim of permanently upgrading the care given to crisis families.
Birmingham City Council’s homes and neighbourhoods lead Cllr Sharon Thompson, who experienced the ignominy of homelessness as a teenager, said it was fantastic news.
It marks “a significant improvement to the standard of accommodation being provided to the homeless.”
“We have seen a dramatic rise in homelessness since the start of the pandemic, with more and more people having to be placed in B&Bs and other emergency housing right across the city,” she said.
“The pandemic has been a challenging time – this provides us with a real game changing opportunity to help people.
“I’d personally like to thank SWHM for their generosity. While the pandemic led to initial talks between us, they’ve gone above and beyond in their commitment to homeless families.
“Not only are they offering this lifeline of support during the pandemic but, most importantly, this will extend beyond the current crisis.
“It means homeless families and individuals will continue to have access to the same high-quality accommodation once the pandemic is over.
“This is absolutely essential. Not only does everyone have the right to decent housing but it’s vital in ensuring positive mental and physical health.
“This is a brilliant step and I couldn’t be more pleased for the families who will now be able to have a much happier, healthier Christmas.
“However, we will continue to work hard with our partners around the city to see that homelessness is prevented and the root causes of the problem are corrected.”
As part of the agreed deal -full financial details of which are not disclosed at this stage – those who are staying will receive:
- a cooked breakfast every morning
- access to all hotel services
- guaranteed high standards of cleanliness and housekeeping
- access to Wi-Fi
The type of hotels and buildings provided also means that there is additional space for extra support.
This will enable families to access the information they need to find permanent housing, with safe meeting spaces for officers from housing, health and children’s services to meet with families when appointments are needed.
Space is also set aside for a creche for children to play.
John Angus, Managing Director for Staywell Hospitality Management, said he was proud to be part of the new arrangements.
“Now we hope that if we show we can do it, then so can everyone else. We have committed to this beyond the pandemic, beyond getting back to our core business.
“The reason we did it, and will continue to do it when our core business returns, is that we want to make a real difference.”
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He said publicity about the poor conditions endured by some families – “including your articles” – had been pivotal in awakening understanding of the issues in the city.
He said the company’s sense of corporate social responsibility meant they had refused to compromise on standards and were funding some aspects of care out of their own pockets.
“We were in this wholly or not at all.
“We are clear on what we offer – for example, there are no more than four people in a room, no bunk beds, hot breakfasts, weekly room cleans and new linens, access to support on site, access to wi-fi – because to do otherwise is against our whole culture. These are our guests, like any other.”
Some 150 families have already moved into rooms – and won over staff, he said.
“The people staying here already are lovely and our staff have taken them to their hearts. In the first week the staff organised a toy collection and shared 600 toys with some of the kids.
“We also feed the children every day at lunch, we are up to our 3,000th meal so far, which we provide out of our own pocket.
“We always strive for excellence in everything that we do, and we felt we could make a real difference with the rollout of the new programme.”
He added: “The ultimate measurement is the thank you cards from children to our teams when they move from our temporary accommodation to their new homes.”
The project also helped secure hospitality jobs through the pandemic.
Only last week we featured the plight of 11 year old Aya and her family, four of them sharing a makeshift bed in a Hagley Road b&b.
She shot a 30 second video showing the extent of the room she called home, dominated by the room where four of them sleep, piles of clothes, a perch for a microwave and iron and the shower room that doubles as a laundry and kitchen sink.
It lay bare the stark reality of life inside a Birmingham B&B room for homeless families.
Our Christmas #Brumwish campaign, inspired by kids like Aya, aimed to get gifts to every one of the city’s 1,000 B&B kids – and with your help we smashed our target.
Activist Saidul Saeed, of Citizens UK Birmingham, who supported our campaign, has appealed for improved conditions for families.
Today’s announcement was, he said, a cause for celebration.
“We have heard time and again of the pain of families living in pretty appalling conditions, crammed together without facilities and space. Most did not even get the breakfast part of ‘bed and breakfast.’ This is very good news.
“It also sends a great Christmas message to families in an emergency situation – we hear you and we think you deserve better.”
* By agreement with the council and hotels group we are not identifying the locations involved in the deal to protect the vulnerable families living there