New ‘pods’ for rough sleepers to use in severe weather could be deployed by North Devon Council (NDC) this winter instead of its Safe Sleep initiative.

The council is looking to purchase five emergency shelter pods for temporary nighttime accommodation at a cost of £30,000, and is seeking funding to do so from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG)

It comes as the council is looking to ‘re-prioritise’ its provision for rough sleepers in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A report by NDC’s service lead for housing equality, Natasha Rowland, said the council would be unable to operate Safe Sleep this year following the coronavirus pandemic, with the decision coming from central government.

The project, which was made possible with funding from central government, provided 653 nights of accommodation to 52 people during the first 10 weeks of 2020, and helped 21 people into housing after opening its doors to rough sleepers at the Salvation Army in Barnstaple.

The report said the temporary pods would be ‘just one solution’ to helping rough sleepers off the streets.

It said: “Rough sleeping has remained a continuous community concern and with the funding potentially available from government it will enable the council to provide bespoke accommodation to start people on their journey to ending rough sleeping.

“Each client accessing a pod will receive daily support and this in turn will manage any potential risks such as anti-social behaviour which may be attributed to its use.

“The clients will be able to access the pods on a short-term basis only whilst clients are assessed and moved through accommodation pathways.”

The council’s strategy and resources committee is recommended to approve the purchase of the pods in principle – subject to funding being received from the MHCLG – when it meets virtually on Monday, July 6.

The fire retardant pods have vinyl flooring, laminate panelling, a chemical toilet and bed platform and come with an LED light, USB phone charger and smoke detector. Access is controlled by a coded smart lock.

The report adds: “Once fully operational there is no reason that in the future the scheme could not be expanded with consideration given to local businesses, non-governmental organisations and churches to essentially sponsor a pod.”