Tackling Northern Ireland’s homelessness under COVID-19

Linking together health provision, homeless services, and a strategy to provide more housing is critical to tackling homelessness. That is the key finding from an innovative task group of homelessness agencies across Northern Ireland set up to tackle the challenges of COVID-19.

The group has worked to identify what services and practices are necessary to best meet the needs of homeless people. Its report, produced by multi-disciplinary management consultants Campbell Tickell, showed that despite major challenges, there were no coronavirus outbreaks in hostel accommodation. Nicola McCrudden, Homeless Sector COVID-19 Co-ordinator explains why:

“Homeless service providers faced increased demand, additional costs and staffing pressures but coped admirably. This comes down to great staff, excellent management practices, collaborative working and a “can do” attitude. Importantly, statutory partners, such as the Housing Executive and the Public Health Agency, listened and worked hard to address practical issues. Critically, a sector-led, multi-agency group was key to coordinating the response and extra funding secured through the Department for Communities was vital in ensuring services remained open and no one slept rough.”

While the sector experienced challenges in sourcing and distributing sufficient PPE, this was later addressed by centralising administration through the Housing Executive.

The homeless sector identified the following key asks. Namely, to acknowledge that:

  1. Homeless services provide an essential public health role; therefore, staff terms and conditions must reflect this.
  2. Health and homelessness are interconnected. Health will play an integral role in resourcing, supporting, and working alongside homeless service providers.
  3. Homelessness is linked to housing supply. The development of a housing strategy with direct links to housing solutions and homelessness prevention is required as a matter of priority.

Jo Daykin-Goodall, Director of Operations, The Welcome Organisation said:

“We could not have met the challenges we faced without our dedicated staff. They continue to put their health at risk to keep others safe and we are humbled by their dedication, sheer grit, and community spirit. We anticipate an increased demand for our services and as such the collaborative approach to working must be commended and continued.”

Kirsten Hewitt, Director of Homelessness Services, Simon Community added:

“The pandemic created a paradigm shift in the NI homelessness sector. We were gifted the opportunity to rethink our approaches to service provision and work collaboratively, encouraging the sector to better share knowledge. This has placed us in a much stronger position as we strive to end homelessness and has laid the groundwork for our response to future waves of Coronavirus.”

Finally, Deirdre Canavan, Senior Services Manager Northern Ireland, DEPAUL noted:

“There can be no going back to old ways of working. The report outlines what can be achieved when efforts are focused and concentrated in the right way. Homeless people and services will benefit from the learning gained”.

Membership of the group has been drawn from heads of operations in DEPAUL, Extern, First
Housing, Housing Rights, Salvation Army, Simon Community, and the Welcome Organisation.
The group will continue to meet, working with the Housing Executive to shape future services, and
will be co-ordinated by Council for the Homeless.

To discuss any issue raised in this article, contact Nicola McCrudden on: nicola.mccrudden@campbelltickell.com

 

Campbell Tickell is an established multi-disciplinary management and recruitment consultancy, operating across the UK and Ireland, focusing on the housing, social care, local government, sport, leisure, charity and voluntary sectors.

We are a values-based business and firmly place the positioning of our support and challenge on helping organisations to attain change that is well thought through, planned and sustainable. At CT, we want to help organisations create the landscape within which we ourselves would like to exist: fair, inclusive, diverse, engaged and transparent. We build from our values in how we approach all our work as a practice.

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