Homelessness and the impact of Covid-19

Saturday 10th October 2020

This World Homelessness Day, Patrick O’Dowd of Caritas Salford reflects on the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on people who are homeless.

Lack of suitable housing and access to safe, permanent and secure accommodation is a social problem which is deep rooted and complex to resolve.  Many of us have some experience of seeing rough sleepers in city or town centres; desperate, cold and begging for food or money.  This is, however, only a small part of the multifaceted reality that affects an estimated 280,000 people experiencing homelessness in England (Shelter, December, 2019).  Those who find themselves homeless are often affected by multiple traumas or problems including, mental health problems, substance addiction, fleeing domestic violence, family breakdown, debt or loss of employment or seeking asylum.  The majority are also not necessarily rough sleeping but ‘invisible sofa surfers’ moving between acquaintances.

The Impact of the Pandemic

The recent pandemic and the immediate accommodation of 15,000 people as part of the ‘Everyone In’ emergency programme has demonstrated the possibility that we can put an end to this problem.  With the collective endeavour of government, public and private sectors, charities, voluntary organisations and faith groups the pandemic has illustrated we can collaborate to provide a safe place to people in our society.

Caritas Salford – Serving the Poor and Vulnerable

In our own diocese, Caritas Salford has also continued play its part.  At the height of the pandemic staff and volunteers at Cornerstone, the Lalley Centre, (Manchester) and Red Door (Bury), provided on average 400 lunches or food packs each week to those who are homeless or affected by insecure or poor accommodation.  Providing food is only a limited part of the answer and the importance of giving high quality information, support and assistance is critical to securing opportunities for housing and long-term personal security.  The pandemic has offered us the chance to deliver intense personalised, socially distanced but face-to-face support for those needing advice, increasing the number of people who accessed accommodation or benefits more quickly.  It has also accelerated our engagement with the local authority and enabled collaboration with other charities across the diocese to ensure effective support.

The challenge, however, is still great and as the lockdown regulations are ever-changing, it creates difficulties for those who are already vulnerable.  Homeless charities, including Caritas, are also worried about the impact of the huge blow to the economy and how this will affect funding. We are still not able to invite all our generous volunteers back to our services because of social distancing and caring for their health and welfare.

What you can do to help?

In 2015 Pope Francis reminded us that ‘the Son of God came into this world as a homeless person’, the ‘Son of God knew what it was to start life without a roof over his head (Pope Francis, Washington DC, USA, September, 2015).  With his reminder, please continue your prayers for those affected by homelessness and insecure accommodation and remember our staff and volunteers as they continue to respond to this need.

This World Homeless Day we must realise that the pandemic itself presents a ‘circuit breaker moment’ and an opportunity for positive change.  We should not be afraid to recognise and seize the opportunities to stand up for those affected by homelessness and do everything possible to avoid society ‘snapping back’ into previous patterns of behaviour.

If you would like to provide practical help, please consider becoming a Caritas representative in your parish community. For further information please email k.ansley@caritassalford.org.uk. You could also visit our website to look at how you can donate or volunteer www.caritassalford.org.uk.  Perhaps you might consider organising a suitable fundraising event or talk about the issues of homelessness in your parish or school?

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