This week it was announced that Croydon Nightwatch, the homelessness charity, has received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. Here, Nightwatch chair JAD ADAMS looks back on the organisation’s work over the two years of covid and suggests there’s much to learn from the successes during the pandemic
Three days after the lockdown was announced in March 2020, one of the great success stories of the covid pandemic began. The government told all councils that anyone homeless and sleeping out should be indoors by the weekend.
The fears were that homeless people would become “super spreaders” because of their mobility, their poor access to handwashing and concentration in shelters.
“Everyone In” was a response to this.
Within a week, local authorities and voluntary organisations had worked together to move 90per cent of identified street homeless people into accommodation, mainly in recently vacated hotels.
In Croydon, Nightwatch supported the effort with food, kettles and other items for people who were in this temporary accommodation.
It was proof that homelessness could be eliminated, if there was the political will to do it.
The result, nationally, remarkably, was that there were no excess covid deaths among homeless people – they suffered the epidemic at the same rate as the general population.
How different the experience was in some parts of Europe and the United States, where the homeless community was ravaged by the disease.
There was still a lot for Nightwatch to do as only a small proportion of the charity’s clients are street homeless. The rest are in hostels, squats, poor quality accommodation and some are simply too poor to afford household expenses and food.
Therefore, we still had a client group expecting to see us every night for food and other essentials. We continued to go out, every night, throughout the pandemic. Our volunteers never missed a night.
We put a call out for emergency volunteers and had to rely on wholesalers for food, as the supermarkets were often empty. Many of the people we were seeing were new to us, some had been working cash-in-hand in warehouses and cut-price shops and had seen their incomes disappear along with their work.
We were also seeing more clients because indoor services were closed and we were one of the few places people could go to get food.
As covid recedes, we are now returning to the same situation we had before. Only worse.
On April 28 2022, for the first time on a weekday, our volunteers in Croydon served more than 100 people.
The ending of ‘Everyone In’ has returned people to the streets. The cost-of-living crisis has meant many more people who do have a home are unable to afford the basics so they come to us.
The council’s financial problems have impacted us because cuts to the Croydon Voluntary Action budget means they cannot host the distribution of food to ourselves and the others in Croydon’s consortium of 22 food banks any longer.
Until December last year, every week a ton of food was delivered from City Harvest and UK Harvest, who warehouse donations from supermarkets. We and other charities and food hubs would collect from the CVA’s offices and distribute to needy people.
Now we have lost a large amount of food which previously had come free into the borough.
We repeatedly approached the council requesting support or an alternative redistribution hub to be found, where lorries can drop food and we can pick it up for local distribution.
We are now approaching the new administration at Bernard Weatherill House, who we hope will be responsive to a situation where decisive action would be inexpensive and make a big difference to those in most need in the borough.
The lack of a distribution site means the poorest people in Croydon are literally losing lorry loads of food a week.
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- Read more: Croydon charity given Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service
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I’m sure people are aware that there are many people who are homeless not by choice but by circumstance. There are also many people who are trying to break out of homelessness but are finding the journey very long and arduous. These people need our support, so Croydon Council, please do something useful with all the money you get in to help NightWatch continue with the food deliveries they so desperately need.
The bungling oafs who caused all of this and more are still members of Croydon Labour party