Our previous blog reflected upon the challenges that Covid-19 has posed to organisations working to prevent homelessness and insecure shelter. In our latest webinar with our Community of Practice (CoP), we discussed members’ vision for the post-Covid future and the opportunities to achieve this vision for their client groups: people with experience of sleeping rough, migrating and seeking asylum, women and the urban poor.
“WE'RE IN A NEW WORLD, WE NEED TO DO OUR BEST”
What would a better post-Covid future look like?
CoP members recognised that a better post-Covid future will depend on better public policies, more resilient communities and changes in social attitudes. Members firstly identified adequate, safe and affordable housing as key to a better future, and argued that housing should be considered as a right rather than a short-term solution. Secondly, communities should be better supported to adapt to changing environments, with access to resources and skills for the 'new normal’. Lastly, misconceptions about people experiencing homelessness and migrants need to change. While these changes do not only depend on CoP members, participant organisations are working towards achieving the future they would like to see.
“THERE IS MOMENTUM”
What opportunities can CoP members build on to achieve this vision?
CoP members recognised that the pandemic had created momentum for change. They flagged five key opportunities to build on: collaboration, skills, public awareness and demand for change, gender norms, and the “creativity and ingenuity” of people living without safe and affordable housing.
The pandemic has resulted in better collaboration between different stakeholders. Improved collaboration between participant organisations and governments was demonstrated by the provision of services and shelter during the pandemic; the repurposing of community buildings; and the use of hotels and hostels as temporary accommodation. In Britain, local authorities built direct relationships with people with experience of sleeping rough through the provision of temporary accommodation. Members argued that we need to maintain these initiatives and relationships, making them permanent in the post-Covid future.
CoP members acquired new skills during the pandemic. As one participant said, “We aren’t shutting everything down just because of the crisis – we look at what we can do.” The ease and low cost of remote communications can improve the ability to keep in touch with clients, many of whom felt isolated even before Covid-19. The switch to remote working has encouraged greater working through communities and local networks, which can better reach excluded communities. As one participant said, “if the contact is already in the local soup kitchen, build from that rather than imposing a new model on people."
The pandemic has raised awareness among governments and the public of the challenges of homelessness and insecure shelter, and the importance of government intervention. As one participant said, “the government’s hands have been forced – we need to keep up the pressure.” For instance, the health crisis has demonstrated the importance of providing water and sanitation in informal settlements to control the spread of the virus. In India, the government responded by setting up shelters for people living on the streets. Shelters have always been needed, but the pandemic forced the government into action. “We need to ensure this continues - because this is an issue housing groups were demanding for years and were unsuccessful!” Across all four countries where the CoP work, “Covid has shown up the existing faultlines in an unequal society.” For example, in India the plight of migrant workers moving from an urban to rural areas raised public awareness and sympathy. In the UK, there is greater awareness of growing inequality, likely to be exacerbated by the coming recession.
CoP members found that empowering women to become leaders has had a positive impact in their communities during the pandemic (i.e. promoting health practices, disseminating mitigation measures, and mobilising communities). This has increased the credibility of these type of programmes and the belief in women as good leaders, which represents a huge opportunity for positive change, as well as for scaling up this type of programmes.
Beyond the health crisis, participant organisations are already working towards achieving brighter future for people experiencing homelessness and insecure shelter. In South Africa, for example, Khulisa Social Solutions is implementing the Streetscapes project to address homelessness in a more progressive way, moving beyond a punitive model approach towards substance misuse. In the United Kingdom, the Housing First Model already provides effective and permanent solutions for people experiencing homelessness.
Finally, CoP members emphasised that building on existing capacities successfully requires “build[ing] on people’s lived experience." Co-production and participatory mechanisms are essential to make service design and delivery more efficient. “The strengths and skills of client groups are "extraordinary." Groundswell was flagged for their work advocating for people with experience of homelessness to inform local responses to Covid-19 in the United Kingdom. We look forward to discussing the role of co-production in our next CoP webinar.
We hope you enjoyed these discussions as much as we did. Please post any comments and feedback below!
The CoP team