Lockdown has brought homelessness into the open

Lockdown has brought homelessness into the open

Lockdown has brought homelessness into the open

Rosie Roksoph

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As someone who's lived without a smartphone or wifi for years, I've always been happy just using the internet at the library when needed. That's because I'm lucky enough to have credit on my phone and a strong support network of friends, who can do a little googling on my behalf. For many others, however, who lack the stability of a home and were just about managing to keep a structure in their lives through knowing the locations, opening hours and numbers of local food banks, soup kitchens and other key services, the coronavirus crisis has made even the simplest of molehills into mountains.

Even with a list of homelessness services in front of you and a phone with plenty of credit, if no one is there to answer the phone when you call then help is beyond your reach. I began calling such services just to see who still answered. No one did.

Many people - even those privileged enough to have easy access to the internet - may not know that at present only five percent of food banks are still open, with many more facing closure in the near future. Their websites often don’t reflect newly reduced opening hours and in any case aren’t accessible to those on the street.

Thankfully, many local community groups and support networks are stepping up to provide emergency relief to those most affected by the crisis, supplementing the work of established, overstretched services and publicising their work through flyers and posters that are accessible to those without internet. After seeing one such poster, I spoke to Guilene Marco; a branch leader for Islington Women’s Equality Party and the main organiser of one of my local support networks. I was impressed to discover that the network had recruited 150 volunteers in just three weeks, some of whom are DBS-checked to put vulnerable members of the public at ease.

Guilene’s group is recognised by Islington Council, meaning they are able to refer vulnerable families and those in urgent need of financial assistance to Council staff. They also have a small kitty for volunteers to pay into, so they can offer at least some emergency provision themselves. Other community groups in Hackney and elsewhere are operating along similar lines.

All of these initiatives are fantastic, and show that the public will does exist to help the vulnerable and address homelessness and related issues. It is the political will that is so lacking. 

As the coronavirus crisis continues, hidden homelessness is more visible than ever before. In addition to the usual struggles of people who go from one sofa to the next, we are seeing foreign people who were sofa surfing unable to return to their own countries. We have added demand for temporary accommodation as more homeless people leave hospitals. We are seeing a dramatic upsurge in domestic violence and yet a reduction in already scarce refuge places as women already housed in refuges can’t be moved on because of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the struggle to keep people safe and healthy in these shared, temporary living situations is significant. While training has been made available on how to isolate and socially distance, a lack of PPE for homeless shelters, refuges and other frontline services puts staff and guests at risk. 

For vulnerable people affected by the many issues surrounding homelessness - not to mention for the staff providing crucial services for this diverse, complex population -  the current situation is a struggle, to say the least. Community groups and overstretched services are doing their best to fill the gap left by the government, and their work is deserving of a huge clap. But in the longer term, we need a proper strategy and real funding, to make sure that the most vulnerable in our society do not remain hidden and forgotten as we move out of this crisis.

Rosie is an Islington local who makes street art from recycled materials and enjoys writing

This piece was originally written for the Pavement magazine which is for people who are homeless or insecurely housed.

If you are experiencing violence at the moment from those around you, you can access help on any of these numbers:-
National Domestic Violence Helpline (freephone 24h) - 0808 2000 247
Respect (if you're concerned about your own or someone else's violent behaviour) - 0808 802 4040

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