COVID crisis brings out best in councils but smaller boroughs need greater homelessness resource

Greater Manchester councils have made a herculean effort to house the homeless during COVID-19.

But smaller areas were far less equipped than cities to deal with rough sleepers – and concerns are that a broken economy could mean more homeless people coming their way.

That is the conclusion of a survey of all 10 local authorities in the region by charity Homeless-Friendly, who are deeply concerned for the health of rough sleepers who are back onto the streets. They are also asking: “With such limited resources, what will happen to the homeless during the next pandemic?”

The good cause posed three questions to local authorities via Freedom of Information requests. They asked what resources councils devoted during the Coronavirus to provide shelter, what attempts they made to reach homeless people during lockdown and whether or not they followed Government Guidelines on housing rough sleepers.

The results showed:
• All 10 had provided additional accommodation including hotels, with Oldham spot-purchasing more if needed, Trafford utilising local B&Bs and Stockport providing 121 units of temporary accommodation with microwaves
• Almost all had a dedicated outreach team, with some visiting “known areas” for homelessness every day and most working with partner agencies to identify and support homeless people
• All followed Government and Greater Manchester guidance with some such as Tameside, holding daily briefings

But while Manchester had long-established links with local charities, a street kitchen, and mobile phones for rough sleepers to use, smaller councils had far less provision.

Homeless-Friendly was formed after concerns about the health of rough sleepers and has engaged hundreds of NHS surgeries, hospital A&E units, hospices, out-of-hours services and businesses.
The Government allocated £3.2 million of additional funding to house the homeless in hotels at the beginning of March. That scheme has now finished. Economic strife is already beginning to bite and fear of catching COVID has prevented homeless people from gaining healthcare.

Dr Chauhan concluded: “There are some pretty dire predictions about how virulent the virus could become during the traditional flu season of October and November. What will happen this time? Will the Government again find additional resource? And even more importantly, what are we doing long-term to solve homelessness? Our charity was forced to ask for donations to put together COVID-19 protection kits for rough sleepers after the Government refused our petition to provide these. In emergency and non-emergency times, they have to do so much better and mirror the kind of dedication showed by Greater Manchester councils.”

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Learn how Southampton City Council’s Citizen Assistant is answering 90% of Citizen questions

Sobot, the Southampton City Council 2nd Generation Chatbot is a great example of how Omni Channel AI technology can help councils to streamline the delivery of services to citizens. Below is an example of how SOBOT is helping Southampton City Council:

“Southampton is a vibrant historic coastal city in the south of England with a diverse community of over 250k citizens and 7000 business. Southampton City Council has recently published five-year strategy which focuses on making Southampton greener, fairer, and healthier, and ensuring the council is both a great place to work and a provider of efficient and sustainable services”.

James Marshall, Head of Customer and Communications at Southampton City Council said “The council’s vision for the next five years sets the gold standard for delivering 21st century public services: sustainable, inclusive and customer focused. Our challenge is achieving this with reducing budgets, rising expectations, and changing demographics. Artificial Intelligence technology provides the opportunity for me to serve our 1.5million customer requests in a way and at a cost that was simply not possible before. The 90%+ success rate of SOBOT in answering citizens questions supports this approach. SOBOT is clearly going down well with its users with less than 2% requesting to be transferred to a human agent!

Martin Neale CEO of ICS.AI said “James wanted to transform how Southampton engaged with its citizens; he had seen simple chatbots but felt he needed to go way beyond this to deliver Southampton’s vision. In our experience people’s expectations of a virtual assistant are high, set by products like Alexa and Google Assistant. If the experience does not compare, then most people’s instant response is to regard the bot as “dumb” and not use it again. We have worked with James for over a year to produce one of the most sophisticated virtual assistants in the country. SoBot is our second-generation Citizen digital assistant trained with a data set of nearly 40000 citizen questions (harvested from our 1st generation assistant) which is a big part of why it is so successful. Sobot is a key component of our AI Omni Channel Citizen Engagement Platform, a service which allows users to find answers and get assistance by Phone, Webchat, Chatbot, Email and Video”.

See the SOBOT live
ICS website www.ICS.AI
ICS.AI – AI Omni Channel Citizen Engagement Platform Webinar

For more information, please email

Grove House
Lutyens Close
RG24 8AG
01256 403800

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