Many hospitality workers in London have been forced to live on the streets as the closure of businesses due to coronavirus has left them unemployed and unable to pay rent.
A shocking report in The Guardian said central London is seeing a "surge" of newly unemployed restaurant and pub workers forced to sleep on the streets. In response, industry charity Only a Pavement Away (OAPA) has today launched the Hospitality Against Homelessness initiative to help.
Brian Whiting, a volunteer with Under One Sky, which started doing food runs to homeless people in London at the end of March, told The Caterer he had met "many" hospitality workers newly homeless in recent weeks, from chefs and kitchen porters to waiters and housekeepers.
He spoke of an Italian woman who had been working as an agency housekeeper, but after being laid off was unable to pay the £18 a night to remain in the hostel she was staying in. Whiting says he has seen her standing at the same bus stop for the last five weeks.
Whiting said: "We have family and friends here in England, we can turn to people… these people don't have that… A lot of these people probably haven't got a tenancy contract, it's cash paid three to six months up front, and if you can't pay then you've got to go… They're alone, frightened, isolated and vulnerable."
The issue also extends to furloughed staff who have been impacted by delayed wage payments. Whiting spoke of a head chef at a pub in Holborn who ended up living on the Strand for 10-14 days after being furloughed and was unable to pay his rent.
The government announced late last month that all rough sleepers would be housed to allow them to self-isolate, with Mayor of London Sadiq Khan block-booking more than 300 rooms at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) hotels for 12 weeks to support homeless people in the capital.
While Whiting said he had heard people have been housed in hotels, many have not, and some have been housed but not provided with food.
After reading the Guardian report, OAPA chief executive Greg Mangham hopes to apply the template of an initiative being run in partnership with Yummy Pubs to feed and house hospitality workers sleeping rough in London.
OAPA normally supports homeless people, ex-offenders and vulnerable veterans into jobs in hospitality. Earlier this month the charity committed funding to bridging wage gaps to ensure its members don't fall back into destitution during the coronavirus crisis. It is topping up furlough wages where employers cannot do this themselves and helping with rent payments.
OAPA and Yummy Pubs are also supplying three meals a day to 55 homeless people being housed in London. Mangham called on the industry to help with food supplies, kitchens, accommodation and volunteers so this can be extended elsewhere.
He said: "We as an industry must be able to do something. [Businesses are] struggling now to survive, but what we have got are kitchens, we've got people on furlough who want to volunteer… to help these people on the street we need the food, the kitchen, the premises and the volunteers."
He added: "These are our people and it's preventative. If we can keep these people fed, watered, warm, they will come back to our industry when we're ready to launch again rather than ending up in a doorway."
Charity Hospitality Action has been awarding grants to those hit by the coronavirus crisis after launching a Covid-19 emergency appeal last month.
Chief executive Mark Lewis said: "The terrible situation for the least secure workers has been brought into stark focus by this article. Casual and agency staff, often live in the most insecure shared accommodation, are often most at risk of falling through the gaps between various government schemes and can also be the least informed about sources of potential help. It goes without saying that we'd far prefer to speak to people before they find themselves on the streets as it's harder for us to help when this unfortunate situation occurs.
"We would advise anyone who is at immediate risk of homelessness to contact our 24/7 helpline on 0808 802 0282 or email email@example.com where we can signpost them to appropriate support including help navigating the benefits system, legal advice on tenants rights, sources of financial support and emotional support including counselling.
"If somebody does find themselves on the street then they should seek the help of specialist outreach workers who can usually be found where homeless people congregate as they are best connected to local providers and can most effectively get people off the streets."