The first of June marked the UK’s annual Volunteers’ Week and the third month of the Government’s push to keep homeless people in safe, emergency accommodation in hotels amid the coronavirus pandemic.
During this Volunteers’ Week, charities St Mungo’s, Crisis and British Red Cross are thanking individuals who are donating their time to support people who were previously sleeping rough or experiencing other forms of homelessness. Their contribution has kept thousands of people away from the streets and has allowed them to safely isolate in hotels.
In London, the Government’s ‘everyone in’ push led to the Greater London Authority commissioning 14 hotels in what has been described as a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to begin to tackle the huge challenge of ending rough sleeping. St Mungo’s manages seven out of the 14 hotels in the scheme with the remainder managed by other organisations. Amongst them, they accommodate around 1,300 people experiencing homelessness across the capital.
Together, over 100 volunteers have donated almost 4,000 hours of their time, covering 650 shifts in 6 hotels. They have helped with a variety of tasks. For example:
Woolwich resident, Laurie, 26, began volunteering with Crisis in 2014 as part of their Christmas Centres. Now, six years on, she is involved in St Mungo’s hotels project in Limehouse, east London. As a freelancer, she has found the job market quiet so she uses her available time to support homeless people one to one.
Laurie says: “What I do to help the residents really varies. I have been helping with things like taking forms to the GP to get guests registered with a local doctor or even popping out to get their phone credit topped up so they can stay in touch with loved ones. There are other people who we have been able to move into more long term accommodation, like a rented flat, where they can really start to rebuild their lives, which is great.”
David, 45, is supporting the success of the hotels project. Contributions like his underpin the Government’s strategy to end homelessness by 2024. David usually volunteers with British Red Cross’ refugee services in Hackney. Since his shifts have been put on hold, he has volunteered three days in a west London hotel where he serves meals to residents.
David says: “When I deliver breakfast we can have a little conversation. There might be something quite refreshing. An everyday interaction in a different context obviously has a different significance when we are dealing with people mostly stuck in a hotel.”
Kellie, a long-standing St Mungo’s volunteer, started with the charity’s outreach team in Tower Hamlets. Since the beginning of April, Kellie has volunteered 36 hours each week. On sabbatical from her full-time job in the City of London, she is a consistent point of support and advice for hotel residents and works as an embedded part of St Mungo’s frontline team.
Kellie says: “No one should be sleeping on the streets in the UK in the 21st century. What I do as a volunteer could be seen as very small on the face of it, but in times like these, there are no small things. We’re all concerned about what will happen when lockdown ends.”
St Mungo’s also thanks its volunteers helping support similar hotel projects in Brighton and Bristol.
This week, volunteers are celebrated for their compassion, dedication and drive to support organisations throughout the country. Although St Mungo’s has enough hotel and other volunteers at present, filling voluntary roles nationally has never been more needed.