WHEN the country was told to stay at home because of the coronavirus, it exposed a growing problem. For one community, that option simply wasn’t there. The rough sleepers on our streets simply had no safe space in which to self-isolate.
The government paid for more than 5,000 people to be put up in empty hotels around the country, but they still needed support, food and friendship.
Many of the volunteer groups around the country, set up to run soup kitchens and provide support to those on the streets, have adapted to the challenge and stepped into the breach.
Michelle Langan runs The Paper Cup Project, a Liverpool charity that has been offering support to homeless people for the last five years. She says: ‘Thankfully, all of our rough sleepers have been put into accommodation by the local council. Our volunteers have been providing food and support for them while they are there.’
However, there is a worry about what will happen when the government funding ends. ‘Our next step will be lobbying the government to continue helping councils across the country to keep homeless people inside,’ says Michelle. ‘We need a long-term solution — COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere, yet.’
Sadly, some people have fallen through the cracks of the official system, but groups such as The Paper Cup Project make sure they are still looked after. ‘We are shielding an older rough sleeper who has no recourse to public funds. He is off the grid, which means he would have slipped through the net,’ says Michelle. ‘Hopefully, with support, we can move him on to more permanent accommodation.’
Thomas, 55, (not his real name), is one of many who fell into rough sleeping when he lost his job. ‘I’ve been homeless for the past four years, since I was made redundant from my job in publishing.
My family don’t know I was sleeping rough — they would only worry,’ he says. ‘I knew I couldn’t stay on the streets once COVID-19 broke, and thankfully The Paper Cup Project put me in a flat ten weeks ago, just before lockdown. I’m enjoying being inside, watching TV and catching up with the news. Before lockdown, I spent most of my day in the library.
‘I love reading. When the libraries closed there was nowhere to go. That was hard. There are still some homeless out, but most are inside now. To have your own space and a place to have a shower, that’s something else.’
Groups across the UK are working to ease the situation for those without a permanent roof over their heads
Let’s Feed Brum
This volunteer team has had to change its nightly soup kitchen and food distribution, which had been a lifeline for many years. Now a small team does food drop-offs and, equally importantly, keeps talking to homeless people. With many now temporarily housed in hotels, operations are changing, and there’s a new phoneline to call for friendship, advice and mentoring. letsfeedbrum.com/donate
The Myriad Foundation and Human Appeal
In Manchester, humanitarian charity Human Appeal has been working with fellow charity The Myriad Foundation to provide more than 100 weekly meals to their soup kitchen and feed homeless people in the city centre. humanappeal.org.uk
Working with Home-Start Ealing and Ealing COVID-19 Mutual Aid Group, FlowAid have been collecting and distributing menstrual products to homeless women, as well as female health workers and young women living in poverty. facebook.com/FlowAidProject
Many foster children, care leavers and refugees at risk of becoming homeless have been struggling to access the internet during lockdown, leaving them feeling isolated. Live Unlimited is a Give A Dongle campaign to allow vulnerable young people access to the internet and basic tech equipment so they can contact friends and family. justgiving.com/campaign/GiveADongle
Chris and Josie Wood from Weston-super-Mare have been raising vital funds for homeless children. The couple are isolating as they are both registered blind, but Chris decided to run on the spot in his garden to hit a target of 50,000 steps to encourage donations for Toybox, which works to help children living on the city streets across the globe. toybox.org.uk
Care For The Paw
Dogs are best friends to many people living on the streets, and Merseyside and Cheshire Care For The Paw have been visiting dogs and their owners who have been put up in hostels. careforthepaw.co.uk