The effects of Covid-19 pandemic on homelessness

The global Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the lives of people around the world. The most significant factor in the current crisis is the tragic loss of life with thousands of people passing away after contracting the coronavirus.

Although it is clear that everyone’s lives have been affected by the crisis, new data is starting to emerge that shows the pandemic is adversely and disproportionally impacting on certain groups in society. For example, in the UK the data highlights that those people from BAME communities have a higher susceptibility to contracting the virus. This is due to a number of factors including the high representation of BAME communities in low paid care and service sector jobs which has meant their increased exposure to risk.

This highlights the fact that people living precarious lives are more exposed to the ramifications of the current crisis and none more so is this evident than in the plight of rough sleepers and homeless people.

We have been conducting some research and collating our client’s testimonies to find out how the lockdown and self-isolation have affected their lives and what we are trying to do to alleviate the problems.

We work with some of our society’s most vulnerable people who are dealing with a range of complex issues. It is no surprise that the pandemic has had an adverse effect on their lives, but it is important to note exactly what the details are so that we can a) continue to provide and shape our essential services to the situation and b) to use our position to inform the public of our client’s stories and help create further support for their plight.

What changes have clients had to make?

Our research shows that the changes clients have had to make are consistent with the changes of the majority of people in the country. Clients attest to staying in and self-isolating, having no contact with family or friends and people who would regularly visit them.

Daily activities have also ceased – both those activities arranged by friends and family, but also those activities organised by Wirral Ark staff. We are fully committed to providing day-to-day activities for all our clients to ensure they have a schedule of things to do – these help with mood and well-being and can arrange from fitness focused to learning news skills. These activities are a huge part of what we do and help our clients develop inter-personal relationships and so many essential life skills.

The impact of these changes

The removal of daily activities was difficult, but absolutely necessary to ensure that we were adhering to safety guidelines. However, the absence of these activities has clearly impacted the well-being of clients who have come to rely on these interactions and the support they provide.

The lack of access to visitors, family and friends cannot be under-estimated. This contact with the ‘outside world’ is absolutely integral to the client journey and adds an important layer of support as our client’s journey towards independence. Being deprived of this access has proved to be profoundly difficult – with some clients suffering from addiction and mental ill health, the removal of family and friend visitations has put our client’s recoveries at risk.

What other support has been removed

Employment search

For clients who are able to work, accessing the labour market is an important to developing their independence. Unfortunately, the current crisis has meant the removal of the vital support services that facilitate this process. Furthermore, the uncertainty around the state of the economy and what will happen post-lockdown means that clients have reported feeling a sense of de-motivation and despair at the prospect of a possible recession. Jobs and opportunities that clients were working towards accessing may no longer be available.

For many in their position, the type of jobs they were looking at were already low paid and precarious in nature; problems that seem only to be compounded by the current situation. The lack of one-to-one support to help with motivation and/or preparing a pathway to new opportunities means that our clients are in an increasingly vulnerable situation.

Housing support

Then there is the issue of housing related support. The aim of organisations like Wirral Ark is to provide the safety and security for people often living chaotic lives. One of the primary end goals is for some clients to access permanent housing and attain full independence. Unfortunately, this journey has been severely affected – clients who were on the cusp of moving on to new accommodation or accessing new housing support are now left in limbo and uncertain of what the next step will be. Wirral Ark are constantly working with housing providers to help maintain our client’s progression through the system, but with most organisations furloughing their staff this has proved to be very difficult.

Legal and personal support

Clients also mentioned the removal of personal support. One example of this is a client who is going through a separation. When analysing the data of how people come to be homeless, familial breakdown is a major factor. This client was receiving support from CAB in regard to legal issues relating to their separation. This support has been temporarily discontinued has caused increased stress for an already vulnerable individual.

Accessing food

Most of our clients use food vouchers for their shopping. One client informed us that their food vouchers had stopped and they were struggling for essential food stuffs. This problem highlights the stark reality many of our vulnerable clients face on a day-to-day basis. We work hard to provide shelter and other essentials such as food and it is extremely worrying that some clients are now struggling to get the very basics they need for survival. Needless to say, this problem has huge implications for both our service and the individual concerned.

How we are filling the gaps in support

To help alleviate some of the aforementioned issues we have launched the Arklight Client Support Service which offers a range of provision designed for the UK lockdown and client self-isolation. The main focus of this service is to provide essential food and hygiene packages delivered by our staff and volunteers to all of our clients.

We have been fortunate enough to receive numerous public donations as well as financial grant support through our partner organisations and beyond. Our staff and volunteer network have worked so hard to make this project work and has ensured that every one of our clients has the basics of food, shelter and hygiene items to help them through the crisis.

We have also started a befriending service which is managed by our frontline staff. This includes provision for daily and/or weekly phone calls to clients to discuss how their feeling, keep their spirits up and to also let them know that they remain a priority for our organisation. This is a simple and very effective tool to keep in touch with clients, monitor how they are coping with the lockdown and offering support and advice on their personal circumstances. It is far from the face-to-face support we normally provide but is an acceptable compromise and has proved to be very successful.

The lockdown restrictions are being eased gradually and self-isolation measures are now being relaxed however, there is still huge uncertainty as to when our fully services will be available again. Partner organisations and professional support networks will operation their own return timetables so it is important we keep our good work going and to ensure that any risk to our clients is minimised as much as possible.

If you would like to offer you support, you can do so in a number of ways.

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