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Covid-19 and CoP members

Hello CoP members,

Thank you for attending our first webinar! In this post, we summarise our discussions on how the global Covid-19 pandemic is affecting your work to prevent homelessness and insecure shelter. We also list your amazing ideas and advice on how organisations working in this sector can respond to the crisis.

What challenges does Covid-19 create for our CoP members and target groups?

The introduction of national lockdowns across the World led to an “initial panic”, as teams had to quickly adapt to working from home. CoP members generally felt that they had started to overcome this challenge, with team members rapidly adjusting to the new way of working. A continual problem, however, is how to engage with client groups remotely. Not all have the necessary resources, equipment or skills to use technology, and it is harder to build rapport online. Clearly, some forms of support, such as food and personal care items, can’t be provided online.

Many participants faced challenges in supporting their client groups and staff to maintain safe social distancing practices. CoP members working with rough sleepers struggled to find safe, individual accommodation for their clients. This is particularly challenging for vulnerable groups with additional needs (e.g. substance users). Those working in informal settlements face further challenges in implementing recommended safety measures. Social distancing in overcrowded areas, or handwashing in areas without easy access to soap or water, can be impossible. Moreover, staff members often don’t have the appropriate protective gear because the supply is severely limited or it’s too expensive.

Dealing with the economic impact of the lockdown is a priority for all CoP members. The loss of livelihoods has dire consequences for all client groups, with an increased risk of losing housing or shelter and becoming homeless. For participant organisations, the loss of vital income has led to some redundancies at a time when staff are needed most. While there has been some media coverage of these issues, there is insufficient understanding of the new challenges that this will create over time.

Vulnerable populations are disproportionately affected by Covid-19. Informal settlement dwellers and populations experiencing discrimination are facing increased risks and violence. Lockdown measures and isolation stress have also worsened domestic violence. Undocumented migrants and citizens without identity documents are unable to access government services and assistance. Working to support governments to mitigate these risks is an important initiative, but can also pose additional challenges, especially in contexts where governments may be a cause of harm or exclusion to vulnerable communities. In some countries, for example, police brutality has increased as they attempt to enforce lockdown.

How are CoP members dealing with this?

CoP members are exploring creative ways to move their service delivery online. They are distributing technology (e.g. smartphones, airtime) to client groups, and engaging with community leaders to use existing networks and capacity to provide help. For instance, one intervention is supporting a group of women community leaders to organise an online campaign via Zoom, raising awareness about the importance of social distancing. Other CoP members are using technology for delivering advice and easing isolation impacts on mental and physical health. Examples abound: virtual drop-in services and sessions, WhatsApp or Zoom support groups in different languages, short YouTube videos, and even joint activities like singing over Facebook livestream. Radio programmes are particularly popular in the Global South and one CoP member has extended its reach into neighbouring countries through radio. Some CoP members continue to offer in-person services from outside spaces, such as gardens, for those who cannot access online support.

CoP members agreed that it is essential to understand the communities they are working with. Keeping a frequent and active dialogue with client groups is fundamental to understand their needs and how technology could be better used, especially during this time of rapid change. One partner called all service users from the last twelve months – approximately 400 people – to understand what was needed. Many of the CoP members are investing in co-production, working together with others to pull resources and maximise efforts.

Especially in the Global South, CoP members talked about the need to hold governments to account. Civil society is often acting to fill gaps in public services, and this crisis has increased the burden. For instance, in informal settlements, CoP members are providing hand washing stations or assisting with the transformation of sport facilities into food banks, and schools into shelters. As one member said, we “should not let governments get away with apathy”!

There is now momentum to discuss the problems associated with homelessness and insecure shelter, and some governments and organisations have taken strides to make sure things improve during the pandemic. A big question is how can we use our influence and relationships to ensure that the world after Covid-19 is better and fairer.

Resources and funding opportunities:

Comic Relief has a Covid-19 Q&A page and we have also gathered resources and links that we think CoP members will find useful. Some of our CoP members even have their own Covid-19 page – for example, check Tshwane Leadership Foundation’s repository. CoP members shared some funding opportunities such as the one from The London Community Foundation Coronavirus Response Funding. Homeless Link continues to update a list of funding opportunities (specific to UK homelessness) on their dedicated Covid-19 webpage. Other opportunities can be found here. BOND has a comprehensive list of international funding opportunities here.

Are we forgetting something? Please share your thoughts by responding to this post!

The CoP team

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Comic Relief is a major charity based in the UK, with a vision of a just world, free from poverty. Find out more about Comic Relief work around safe and secure shelter here

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EDP Associates is a consultancy specialising in urban development, labour market analysis, research management and employment and skills policy.

DevLearn is a consulting firm specialising in implementation, monitoring, evaluation, and communications for inclusive economic growth.