Matt Harrison, StreetLink’s Director, explains what measures government, homelessness services and StreetLink are taking to support those sleeping on our streets during the Coronavirus crisis.
How StreetLink can support new rough sleepers during the pandemic
The original lockdown period saw the number of StreetLink alerts soar. The virus drove more people who were sleeping rough to call us for support and advice as they found themselves newly on the streets, and public concern grew.
Key connecting role
StreetLink played a key role in ensuring people received support at this time, connecting them to local services so that, where possible, they could be referred into the emergency COVID accommodation arranged in partnership between homelessness services and local councils under the Government’s Everyone In instruction at the end of March.
I’ve been so proud and inspired by the team, who have worked from home, or come into our COVID-secure office to continue to take calls. We received almost 17,000 alerts from April to June – a 36% increase on the same period in 2019, and more than we handled in the cold January to March period that is usually our busiest time of year. There was a heightened sense of urgency to answer and process as many calls and alerts as possible, in order to connect people to services.
While it was challenging for us, and for stretched homelessness services facing an entirely new situation, organisations worked extremely hard and pulled together to support people to safely self-isolate away from the streets.
Adapting to meet the need
As autumn weather arrives and the country moves from Coronavirus alert level 3 to level 4, the StreetLink team is gearing up to cope with a further spike in alerts. For people already facing the prospect of sleeping rough, and with a rise expected in people likely to lose their homes as pressures mount – including loss of income or employment – it will be important that we can swiftly link them to support.
We’ve learned from what happened the first time, and have adapted and streamlined our procedures to ensure that we can help as many people as possible. We are aiming to liaise closely with local councils and services to make sure we have the latest information on homelessness provision. We will continue to run our advice line for people sleeping rough in London, providing them with an additional means to seek help.
Providing early intelligence
Part of StreetLink’s role is to act as an extra source of information for services, so they can find and help people sooner. This has positive impacts on people’s safety and wellbeing, which is why we’re asking for your help to send alerts whenever you see someone sleeping rough.
While the outreach teams that go out to offer support overnight are often aware of people with longer histories of rough sleeping, they do not always know about new people on the streets. The teams often cover large or dense areas in their shifts, and appreciate the extra intelligence provided by the public’s StreetLink alerts.
People who are new to rough sleeping often do not know what help is available, and the sooner help gets to them, the greater the chance that they can move on from homelessness safely and in a shorter time. This is particularly important right now, with Coronavirus infection rates rising through communities.
It’s still best to use our website and app rather than our phone line to send alerts if you can. This allows us to manage larger numbers of referrals more efficiently, freeing up the team to follow up when more information is needed and to speak to people sleeping rough directly.
Where our role ends
Much as we might like to, StreetLink does not have an extended remit during the pandemic. We cannot offer accommodation or advice directly, but we are the best route in to the support that is available. Equally, we are not an emergency service and therefore, while we send alerts straight to the correct local services, outreach teams will usually take a few days to make contact with people. It’s worth mentioning this, as these issues have come up when talking to people sleeping rough, members of the public and homelessness professionals during lockdown.
As the fallout of the pandemic continues, and homelessness remains a critical issue, we know we are facing difficult times ahead. However, StreetLink and the local charities and organisations we work with will be doing everything we can to support people who find themselves homeless to move away from the streets.
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