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Stories From The Frontline : Outreach During COVID-19

Stories From The Frontline : Outreach During COVID-19

Stories From The Frontline : Outreach During COVID-19

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Mark Diver, a Homeless Navigator at Cyrenians, spoke with the Frontline Network about how outreach workers have successfully adapted to this challenging new environment:

The Cyrenians Homeless Navigator Project is a relationships-focused street outreach service for which I am a part-time outreach worker. Our job is to direct people with no accommodation to the relevant services and to support people through the process of accessing temporary accommodation.

By the 5th of March 2020, most services for people experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity in Edinburgh either closed completely or heavily restricted their service.

The immediate impact of this for the people we work with was fear and confusion. A lack of communication in these early days meant that people with no access to up to date information were left with only the vaguest of understanding as to why their services had disappeared.

As the services adapted and developed new ways of working, it was up to street outreach workers to get the message out. We emphasised the importance of social distancing and hand hygiene, as well as distributed food in the days before more formal systems were in place.

Social distancing was problematic at first for a relationship-focused service like ours. We are used to meeting in cafes and being in close contact with our clients to build the trusting relationships on which our work relies.

There has been a concerted effort by the Council to offer accommodation to all people who are rough sleeping, to protect them from the COVID-19 pandemic. But of course, the number of people sleeping rough is not a static one.

We are still working with individuals who either have not heard about the newly available accommodation, or with those who have a reason for not wanting to be accommodated in the available places.

In the latter case we will try to arrange an alternative for them, but we cannot always do that. For example, we have somebody who is refusing to go into temporary accommodation unless they can be accommodated with their dog and their partner.

We can find accommodation for them to share with either the dog or the partner, but the system is not able to meet her specific needs. As well as this, we all have one or two people who we are working with temporarily on behalf of a colleague who is unwell or isolating.

Losing our base at the Cyrenians offices has also been something we have had to adapt to. The most frantic and difficult time for us as a service was the first few weeks, whilst the social distancing rules were in place, but before the statutory response had reached the streets.

Things have settled down now for us, and we are proud that everyone has come together in this difficult time, to find new and innovative ways to support people during this crisis.

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