We live in extraordinary times, especially right now with all the implications and issues arising out of this period when the world population is expected to stay at home because of the coronavirus outbreak, unless there is a good reason not to. But what about the homeless, who by definition have no home and cannot self-isolate?
This is of particular personal interest given homelessness is my “thing” and, moreover, one aspect is knowing what is going on when it comes to helping homeless, including updating the leaflet on where to go for help if you are homeless. Besides much of normal life shutting down or at least restricting operations because of the virus, including services designed to help the homeless, there is the matter of communication – what is going on and where are the gaps concerning what are the unmet needs when it comes to helping?
I had a strange experience at the weekend just past. Firstly, I was due to do a volunteer stint at one of the churches taking part in the church winter night shelter operation, only to discover by chance that it had transferred to another place. Secondly, I was due to turn up at the soup kitchen I am part of, only to discover (also by chance) it had temporarily shifted its operational base. Thirdly, some of the homeless and those wanting to help were asking the perfectly reasonable question of what the local council and the various homeless charities in the town were doing to help the homeless? Happily, with each of the examples there were positive outcomes but given how quickly things had changed and are continuing to do so, the unavoidable need to make changes, especially when it comes to managing risk of infection, it was perhaps understandable there should be breakdown in communicating important information. The good news is things are happening, even if away from the limelight.
Firstly, the main player when it comes to helping the homeless, i.e. the Council, which in my area is Southend Borough Council (SBC), supported by their outreach teams, have put all the homeless known to them into Bed and Breakfast accommodation while this isolation period extends and is trying to ensure they are fed. Secondly, the second main player for helping the homeless, the main homeless charity which in my area is HARP, are doing a lot to keep the show on the road. Thirdly, thanks to the likes of volunteers like Daniel, Hannah and Cheryl, when the Church Winter Night Shelter (CWNS) program was looking to stall, they were able to secure a premises to give overnight accommodation to 20-30 guests until the SBC B&B program kicked in. Fourthly, VCS groups like the Storehouse, One Love and Off the Streets (and there are others) have been working, often ostentatiously behind the scenes, to ensure the homeless and vulnerable are fed and some of their other needs are being met.
That is all good news but we are not out of the woods yet. Homelessness remains an issue of grave concern and an unacceptable blight on our society; gaps in services that might prevent people becoming or remaining homeless remain huge; and a large cohort of needy people, homeless or otherwise, remain. This is not the time to rest on our laurels or for the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, when we are all in this together and we all have a part we can play. I have no doubt the rapid change in the national landscape because of COVID-19 will continue as will the needs. If there is a silver lining (forgive so many clichés) this is bringing people together to support one another, especially the needy and the vulnerable and pertinently as far as this article is concerned the homeless, who don’t have anywhere to self-isolate to and to use another popular phrase are especially affected by social distancing. They are especially affected by so much shutting down.
PS. The following is what I put out earlier on our soup kitchen Facebook Page …
Extraordinary times; extraordinary measures
Given the restrictions being imposed at this time, some of our volunteers having to self-isolate and other measures are being put in place, Street Spirit are suspending operations until further notice.
The good news is things are happening to do the very thing we are committed to do, i.e. help the homeless. Watch this space, stay safe and thank you for all who do help, often behind the scenes.