This is a question and answer piece with the charity Homeless Link. It is the second in a series of case study interviews which further explore the impact of the coronavirus crisis on individual charities. Homeless Link is the national membership charity for frontline homelessness services. They work to improve homelessness services through training and development of frontline staff and by campaigning for policy change that will ensure that everyone has a place to call home.
We asked Homeless Link some questions about service delivery, their members, and what they think philanthropists can do to help throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Their responses were as follows.
How is Covid-19 affecting the homelessness sector?
‘The outbreak of Covid-19 has completely transformed the homelessness sector in the short term. With the need to socially distance, regular services such as day centres and night shelters have had to close. Outreach work directly with those sleeping rough has been largely put on hold in many areas.
The initial ‘Everybody in’ directive from government provided funding to ensure that homeless people could be housed in suitable accommodation, such as hotel rooms. Staff from the closed services have adapted their service provision to continue to support these vulnerable individuals in new locations.
The impact of Covid-19 on homelessness services’ income has been varied. Those who receive statutory support have seen less impact than those more reliant on local donations and fundraising events.’
How has Covid-19 changed service delivery? What is working well and what have you had to change?
‘The homelessness sector has changed its delivery to support people in new accommodation settings. Mental health and substance misuse services have also adapted provision. The homelessness sector is now focused on the next stage—helping people to transition away from the emergency accommodation towards more permanent housing options, trying to ensure that people don’t return to rough sleeping, and finding solutions for people that are new to the streets due to the impact of the coronavirus crisis.
Homeless Link, as the membership organisation for the sector, has taken the lead in delivering online support for our members, to ensure they remain up to date with the latest policy developments, funding opportunities, information and innovations. This is largely through focused weekly seminars, which have attracted upwards of 800 attendees.
Our members have shown real innovation in the way that they’ve responded. We have seen our members building on and developing collaborations with the NHS to provide the right clinical input to new settings, and delivering services in new ways—for example, providing vital support remotely.’
What impact is Covid-19 having internally on your organisation?
‘As with many organisations, while we continue to deliver a huge amount of support to the sector, our staff output is impacted by personal circumstances.
As Homeless Link does not deliver frontline services, we have been fortunate to be able to deliver much of our work remotely. Areas that have been particularly impacted include our regional partnerships outreach and our research. Much of this has however been adapted and is now being delivered through remote engagement.
A significant impact to our income has been the sudden cessation of our face to face training, conferences and events. While we adapt this programme for remote delivery where possible, income will remain significantly depressed. And more importantly, with the cancellation of some training and events, our members may not be getting access to essential support to strengthen their services.’
What other effects is Covid-19 having on your members?
‘While the accommodation needs of homeless people have been addressed in the short term, the support needs have remained. Many of the people our members support have multiple needs beyond a room to stay in (e.g. mental health and substance misuse problems). Some have found isolation challenging. It is important not to forget the mental strain delivering services in new and unexpected ways is putting on homelessness staff.
Additionally, alongside current support, services are needing to think and plan strategically for the longer-term, to ensure those housed during the pandemic do not find themselves homeless again, as repurposed accommodation reverts to its original use.’
How can philanthropists help?
‘There is an opportunity to transform the way that support is provided to homeless people. The short-term response of funders to support immediate emergency needs has been fantastic. There is now a need to support organisations to plan for the future. Longer-term funding that enables the sector to deliver services in new ways and develop new approaches based on learning from the pandemic will be hugely important for ensuring homelessness services can transform their approach. Flexibility in funding, which allows services to try new approaches and to work with partners to make changes across a range of local systems will be critical, alongside the recognition that in developing new approaches, sometimes projects may not deliver as expected.’
What has Covid-19 revealed about the state of the sector?
‘Covid-19 has shown the sector to be resilient and adaptable, staffed by people who are passionate and dedicated. We are hugely proud of how the sector has pulled together and supported some of the most vulnerable people in our society in this time.
However, it has also served to highlight the long-term challenges faced by the sector. Even before the Covid-19 outbreak, the sector faced an estimated shortfall of £1bn. The crisis has created new pressures for the people the sector supports, with expected rises in people facing homelessness for the first time. As such, we will need to respond to new and growing areas of demand over the coming months.
But the outbreak also offers an opportunity. It provides a unique chance to review the strengths and weaknesses of the sector, to highlight innovation and identify areas for improvement, to build a more risk-resilient sector and work even more effectively towards ending homelessness for good. The sector stands ready to work with our partners, funders, and in new collaborations to help achieve this.’
Interview with Helen Mathie, Homeless Link
Click the link to return to our How are charities adapting to Covid-19? page.
For more from NPC on how philanthropists should respond to the coronavirus crisis, read our guidance here. Or if you work for a charity and you are looking for advice and resources on what to do now and in the coming months, take a look at our Covid-19 charity toolkit. For all of our coronavirus resources, visit thinkNPC.org/coronavirus