The volunteers at Croydon Nightwatch have witnessed much over the charity’s 45-year history, but the extra pressure of the past 15 months during the covid-19 pandemic has stretched them like never before.
SANJANA IDNANI reports
The annual report from Croydon’s largest homelessness charity suggests that the number of vulnerable, poor and those without a home in the borough may have increased by 50 per cent in the past year during the covid pandemic.
And further figures from Croydon Nightwatch support other evidence that homelessness numbers are continuing to rise, after it recorded the greatest ever demand for its help in the charity’s 45-year history.
According to the 2021 Croydon Nightwatch annual report, the number of poor, vulnerable, and homeless people that the charity made contact with increased from 14,000 in 2019 to almost 21,000 contacts in 2020.
Croydon Nightwatch also reported an increase in the numbers who were turning up for the nightly soup kitchen and help sessions that they hold at Queen’s Gardens.
The increase in people served by Croydon Nightwatch echoes a national trend of increasing homelessness due to the pandemic, with at least 130,000 households reported to have been made homeless in England during the last year.
Despite a ban on evictions being in place until the end of May, a surge in homelessness was triggered by increases in reported incidents of domestic violence and of people losing temporary accommodation throughout the year.
Croydon Nightwatch managed to maintain its services throughout the covid-19 lockdowns of 2020 and into this year, even though many of its older volunteers were forced to step down because of the need to shield from the deadly virus.
Nightwatch also faced difficulties sourcing food for their nightly services when the first lockdown began in March 2020, because many supermarkets were rationing food or had empty shelves due to people panic-buying at the beginning of the pandemic.
An appeal for urgent help attracted many new, and younger, volunteers who were no longer working or studying and were eager to help.
In addition to the charity’s existing services, Nightwatch was asked to put together bags of food for rough sleepers who were self-isolating in temporary accommodation provided by the council.
Jad Adams, the chair of Croydon Nightwatch, used the annual report to pay particular tribute to the residents of one street, Temple Road, who helped the charity counter the shortages and maintain its food supplies by running a house-to-house “One Tin” collection each week.
And once the vaccine rollout began this year, Croydon Nightwatch cooperated with the NHS and other organisations to ensure that all their clients had access to jabs, including those who were not registered with a GP.
“This has been a challenging year nationally and at Nightwatch we took our share of the burden,” Adams said at the charity’s annual meeting last week.
“We have been out every night caring for homeless and otherwise vulnerable people in Croydon. Many of our long-standing volunteers had to stand down at the beginning of the epidemic in March 2020 because they were elderly or caring for vulnerable people.
“This left a void which was filled by our appeal to young people who came through to keep up our service every night of the year. Inexperienced new volunteers did not know what dangers they were subjecting themselves to, even with our careful protective measures.
“We owe them a great debt of gratitude.”
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