The stark challenges for homeless charities during the Covid-19 crisis

The Covid-19 crisis has affected every area of society and has had profound effects on everyone’s lives. Unfortunately, the most severe aspect of this crisis has resulted in the deaths of thousands of people around the world.

Governments have sought to implement measures that will curtail the disease and these have included policies on self-isolation lockdown and social distancing.  As important as these practices are, it is important to note the impact of these policies on the most vulnerable in our society.

Here at Wirral Ark, we work with and support people who are experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping. In addition to these difficult circumstances, a high percentage of our clients suffer from an array of other problems including mental health issues and addiction. So, what challenges does the Covid-19 crisis present to people experiencing homelessness and those organisations (like ours) who are committed to supporting them.

Closure of our Hub Day Centre and Night Shelter

Government guidance is that all day centres and night shelters must close as the shared facilities are not in line with social distancing policy. The fallout of this is the lack of safe spaces for homeless people to stay. We’ve been working at pace with Wirral Council and other partners to get rapid access to appropriate self-contained housing for rough sleepers by using empty student accommodation and hotels. With night shelters, day centres and housing offices closed it does raise the challenge of where people who are new to the streets can access help. This whole process has been difficult and unsettling for our guests and increasing difficult for staff who are dedicated to ensuring their health and wellbeing.

Physical health risks to our vulnerable residents

The effects of the Covid-19 crisis for our vulnerable clients has been significant and has had serious consequences.  People experiencing homelessness are a high-risk group and the effects of coronavirus hitting our accommodation projects would be devastating. Our clients are disproportionately affected by underlying health issues such as COPD, heart disease and diabetes. Many homeless people struggle to keep up with Covid-19 guidance due to digital exclusion and issues with memory, cognition, toxicology ad other stresses. Lack of internet and mobile phones is a major barrier to people accessing the information they need and, as a result, is contributing to increasing their risk of infection.

Impacts on our clients’ mental health

We are seeing a discernible rise mental health issues which have become exacerbated by the current crisis. One-to-one and group support sessions are integral to the services we provide. Activities and organising daily routines are just as important. All of these services have been impacted by the current crisis.

As there is currently limited support from outside services, it is becoming harder to offer the support our clients need. Our support workers have an intuitive understanding of how to support people with mental health issues, but the emphasis has always been on referral to specialist services who can offer the expert support that our clients need.

Due to the lack of available provision, we are trying to fill in these support gaps as best we can. However, this is far from ideal and our clients are now experiencing full scale mental health crises.

Issues of addiction and the threat to recovery

Withdrawal is a problematic process and can have life threatening implications. People accessing our services have multiple and complex needs including issues with addiction. Self-distancing and lockdown policies means we have had to severely reduce our support services. Our ‘in-hostel’ services have been withdrawn leaving people without the level of support they need and has significantly increased the risks to our most vulnerable clients. Support Workers have mentioned that clients are now relapsing because of the current crisis. We are extremely worried about our clients both in the short and long term. Treatment for addiction is only effective if it is consistently managed and the impacts of withdrawing these vital support services cannot be overstated.

Lack of food and other essentials

Basic social care needs are not being met. Our clients are experiencing barriers to accessing food and other essential items. Our clients don’t have transport or the means to order online shopping as most of our clients have post office accounts. Social exclusion and a lack of a support network means they don’t always get the support from family or friends. We’re launching the Arklight Client Support Service using volunteers and donations to address this need by providing befriending, meals and food packages to vulnerable clients. Any help or support you can give would be greatly appreciated. Just contact us at; enquiries@wirralark.org.uk

Financial implications of the Covid-19 crisis

For clients,  this may be due to unforeseen deductions, as there is only phone support from DWP it is making it harder for clients to attempt to request help with finances. Gaining access to what cash they do have is also difficult and without the financial support they receive from our support staff it is difficult for them to manage their finances.

As an organisation, Wirral Ark (like many organisations working in the charity sector) is seeing a significant down-turn in the projected financial support we receive due to the  limitations of our fundraising activities. Planned events have now been cancelled or are at risk of cancellation – this has dramatic effects on our income and puts our project at risk. Our services are vital in supporting some of our society’s most vulnerable individuals and groups and we rely on the generosity and compassion of the public in sustaining the good work we do here.

Aydin Djemal, CEO of Wirral Ark is well placed to see that impacts on the service: “Wirral Ark’s income will fall in the coming months as many of the fundraising events that we rely on are cancelled due to the current lockdown and ban on gatherings. This means we have less to work with, even as we need more people to help.

As a local charity, we are ready to help homeless men and women on the Wirral, but we can’t do it alone. We need your support to keep going at this difficult time.”

As an organisation, all of us at Wirral Ark are working very hard to fill the gaps in provision and would appeal to those that can help support us to get in touch and find out about the varied ways in which you can do that.

Financial support is great but there are so many other ways to contribute. For example, access to food is now of the utmost importance. We’re looking for food parcels that can be provided to people isolating in temporary accommodation, who often have no kitchen faculties other than a microwave and kettle. We are also looking for volunteers who can help us deliver food packages for people who are isolating in temporary accommodation.

Please get in touch with us at enquiries@wirralark.org.uk to discover what your support can do.