With the construction of these micro homes, homeless people in Cambridge are offered a fresh start
At the beginning of March, before the pandemic disrupted our normal routines, Mark Allan, chief executive of Jimmy’s Cambridge, explained the scale of the problems facing the homeless population in Cambridge. Cambridge has been ranked the most unequal city in the UK with the booming tech sector and university increasing the gap between the haves and the have-nots. And the skyrocketing home prices have been part a big part of the problem.
‘Jimmy’s is on the front line of helping people who find themselves homeless in Cambridge,’ Mark told the Cambridge Independent. ‘It’s complex – if it was easy we’d have sorted it, and when you throw in a lack of low cost housing, issues with drugs including the county lines issue, cuts to mental health services, and the problems with Universal Credit, to name a few, the challenge is how to tackle it in Cambridge when some of the problems are caused by nationally driven initiatives.’
And then when COVID-19 ramped up, homeless people were left incredibly vulnerable. According to Crisis, ‘rough sleepers are…three times more likely to experience a chronic health condition and are unable to self-isolate or follow sanitation guidance’. In this moving photo essay in The Guardian, homeless people told photographer Jeff Moore that without people walking by, they aren’t getting a chat or a bit of spare change that used to help. And with local cafes and coffee shops closed, some aren’t sure how they’re going to eat.
But now, thanks to a 12-month partnership between the charities Allia and Jimmy’s Cambridge as well as social enterprise New Meaning Construction, homeless people in Cambridge are benefitting from six new modular homes.
According to Allia: ‘Cambridge is a high-cost area for land and housing, yet these novel custom-built units are specifically designed to be used on temporary sites available at low or no cost.’
The micro homes are situated on land owned by the Christ the Redeemer Church in Barnwell – land that they’ve donated to the project for three years. After those three years are up, the homes can simply be moved to a new location. The people living in them can continue to do so in the new location or move on to a more permanent home. During the time they live there, the residents will have access to personalised support from Jimmy’s on-site.
The homes have a fitted kitchen, living space, bathroom, washing machine and separate bedroom.
‘We’re excited to finally launch these homes,’ said Martin Clark, Allia Group Director of Impact, who led the project. ‘And hope they will make a real difference to people’s lives. I’m deeply grateful to all those who have given funds and free professional help to bring this vision to life, to the church for lending their land, and to the project partners for their tireless work. We hope this will be the start of more such innovative projects until there is enough housing for all who need it.’
New Meaning Foundation is a social enterprise that brings together young people, those who are disadvantaged and those who have struggled with homelessness in the past to build these houses.
John Evans, Director of New Meaning Foundation, said ‘Building the units offered a great opportunity for training and work experience to 13 young people from a homeless background, building their skills, confidence and self-belief in the process.’
If you want to help the homeless during the COVID crisis, consider donating to a local or national charity, seek out volunteer opportunities or help campaign for change to end homelessness for good.