This Frontline interview is with Kevin, our RESET Outreach Referral Advisor, who works in our Advice and Support team.
Kevin works closely with those who are most entrenched in homelessness and addiction. His role is a balancing act, recognising the unique difficulties of the individual's situation and helping them to navigate through it. He gives specialist advice about safer using practices to reduce harm, and ongoing support to help them engage in Tower Hamlet's addiction treatment services so they can eventually overcome their addiction issues.
During COVID-19, he is supporting vulnerable homeless people in hostels and rough-sleepers in hotels providing them with vital addiction support, enabling them to get medical attention and managing challenging behaviour.
The experience is strange, to say the least.
Normally I go onto the streets, doing in-reach with people who are rough-sleeping and have substance misuse issues to help them access help. Lots of face-to-face work with clients, other service providers as well as colleagues, but over the past couple of weeks, as the coronavirus outbreak has taken a grip, people have become ill and had to self-isolate so communication has become challenging.
The streets of London are airy and deserted. This is such a stark comparison to the usual hustle and bustle, especially in Tower Hamlets.
But I have been keeping in touch with clients to make sure they are OK. Naturally, they are feeling the same fears as the rest of us. Many are adhering to social distancing measures and wearing face masks. A lot have expressed their fear for family members they can't see which has made them more reflective about life. On top of all this, due to services closing or having limited availability, many are unable to see a friendly face and are feeling more isolated than ever. One client said it was very lonely outside as people had stopped smiling.
Now I work with rough-sleepers who have been placed into hotel accommodation following the Government's initiative to house rough-sleepers during the pandemic. Addiction is a key issue and hasn't gone away. My work involves assessing residents who want treatment for substance issues, distributing harm reduction equipment and overdose preventative drugs, like Naloxone.
Don't get me wrong, I think the Government’s initiative to house all rough-sleeper is great! At this point, it is not a question. Rough-sleepers need to be accommodated. But accommodation has been an ongoing issue in the UK for years due to the lack of social housing, increase land sales for commercial or residential development as well as cuts to essential services like supported accommodations.
My main concern is what happens to all the homeless people after COVID-19 ends? If they are placed in housing during the pandemic and make the effort to turn their lives around, are they going to end up back on the streets with all of the hard work undone?
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