It has been very challenging for us all, and especially for our service-users, during this Covid-19 pandemic. As government guidance kept on changing on how to manage the related health risks, we had to adapt accordingly so that we could continue to offer all our services without any interruption. To begin with, we limited the number of people who could come in to the centre at any one time. We started with limiting the number to 50, then 30, then 20, then finally to 10; and all that within a two week period. From 16th March, we felt compelled to limit our services to a takeaway meal. Every caller received a hot dinner and a sandwich. On occasions we were also able to add gloves, socks, underwear, and toiletries s part of the parcel.
Even this much reduced service presented us with challenges, like ensuring that when people queued up, they kept the safe ‘social distance’ between one another. Thankfully most people did so but a few did not. Numbers receiving the takeaway meals fluctuated between 96 and 156, but with 67 being an outlier, because people thought we would not be open on that particular day.
Throughout this period there were ongoing discussion between our trustees and senior staff and it was decided that we would close down all face to face interaction between our service users and staff from Tuesday 31st March. The decision to do so was based on the following factors:
- As we were unable to ensure the mandatory 2 meter distance between our service users themselves and our staff we felt that we were putting both parties at risk of catching the virus and of endangering the general public also.
- For the first time ever central government had instructed local boroughs to place all rough sleepers into accommodation for the duration of this crisis and the overall zeitgeist within the homelessness sector was that all organisations should do everything possible to make this happen. Homeless Link, an umbrella group working with over 700 organisations had encouraged all day centres in the strongest of terms to close and as the Chief Executive of the homeless charity Crisis, Jon Sparkes put it “The Government’s insistence that everyone sleeping rough should be housed (by the weekend) is a landmark moment – and the right thing to do’. We wished to play our part both for the welfare of our clients and for the general public at large.
Our local authority, Southwark, are placing rough sleepers into emergency accommodation, including those with no recourse to public funds. It remains to be seen how many may still slip through the net.
We have set up a telephone advice helpline for anyone needing help – 020 7403 1931 option 1. Our advice worker will speak directly to those in need between 10am and 1pm, Monday to Friday. We will give general housing & welfare advice to all callers and more specialised advice to those already on our client database (as they are already known to us and we can verify their information should we need to make a referral).
We are also looking into the possibility of providing 100 dinners per day, Monday to Friday, to those rough sleepers who have been put into temporary accommodation by Southwark. We have put a proposal to Southwark and are awaiting their response.
Bandi Mbubi, Manna Society Director
Paddy Boyle, Manna Society Administrator