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In the wood-panelled restaurant of the Prince Rupert hotel, a four-star Tudor building in the centre of historic Shrewsbury, Richard Marshall, 31, is sitting near a table full of donated Christmas presents, talking about how his life has changed.
In March, Marshall went from being a rough sleeper to a guest at the hotel as part of the government’s Everyone In scheme – which spent £3.2m to get about 90% of the homeless population in England into accommodation.
Marshall was one of 22 homeless people housed by the hotel during the second lockdown and is one of eight who have not left since first moving in just before lockdown in March. “Since I moved in here, I have been living the dream,” he said. “I have so much respect for the staff.”
The hotel, which has taken in a total of 78 rough sleepers since the beginning of the pandemic, is now urging others to follow its lead and allow homeless people back in over the winter, given that most of the country has been placed in tier 2 or 3 restrictions. These rules limit paying guests to those who need to travel for work, meaning hotels will be left almost empty over the festive season.
Mike Matthews, the owner, believes his hotel is the only one of its kind in the country that decided to voluntarily reopen its doors during the second lockdown. It’s also one of the few that refused to ask its homeless guests to leave when regular hotel guests began making bookings again during the summer.
Most of these guests didn’t notice this, while some actually chose to book having seen what the hotel was doing, proving that choosing to continue to help did not affect the hotel’s bottom line when it was able to open.
The hotel is also paid by the local council to house its homeless guests, which has helped at a time when the hospitality industry has been on its knees. For these reasons, Matthews thinks all hotels should be doing their bit.
He said: “We’re in the hospitality business. We have kitchen services, we have the maids, we have the waiters and waitresses, the whole thing is built to look after people. I don’t like criticising other hoteliers, but I don’t understand it.”
Charlie Green, manager of the upmarket hotel, agreed, adding that she had made hot meals for the guests every night since March. As well as curries and lots of fresh vegetables, they have had pizza-making parties.
Green, Matthews and another member of staff left their families and moved into the hotel in March, in order to provide “24-hour wraparound support”. On Christmas Day, hotel staff and homeless guests will gather for a full Christmas dinner with all the trimmings and to open the many gifts that local people have brought in.
Green is so passionate about helping that she can often be found walking around Shrewsbury town centre trying to persuade other rough sleepers to come and stay. “It’s getting colder so I go and ask them if they want to come and hibernate in the hotel for winter,” she said.
Working closely with the local authority has meant most of the former guests have gone on to rented accommodation. Others have found work thanks to being able to put the hotel down as their permanent address, something Matthews has encouraged.
One of the homeless guests has already been taken on full-time as the hotel’s breakfast chef. Marshall, who has either slept rough on the street or been sofa-surfing since he was 12 years old, has been helping in the hotel and is hoping to get a permanent job as a kitchen porter.
He said: “I was worried I would get used to the hot meals and everything and then be back to square one on the streets when Covid was over. I thought, ‘there is no point in this’, but they told us they would not kick us out. It’s a chance for a fresh start.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘I’m living the dream’: how Shrewsbury’s rough sleepers found room at one special inn | Society