Supported services in Surrey adapt to continue to operate during lockdown

Riverside’s Ketan Patel, Surrey’s Regional Operations Manager, gives an insight into how we’re helping people who are homeless and keeping them safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

The national housing association runs a number of homeless supported housing services in Surrey including Vaughan House and the Number Five Hub in Guildford, and Mike Jackson House, our homeless Veterans accommodation in Aldershot.

Ketan Patel, Riverside's Regional Operations Manager in Surrey.

As you can imagine Riverside has had a busy few weeks having to adjust since the government imposed lockdown began on March 23. We had to adapt very quickly in order to respond to any issues we face so that we could continue giving residents in our supported housing services the support they need.

Over the years we have developed a pathway of support for homeless people. Riverside supports people who have complex needs and addictions and who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness. These include services such as Vaughan House – our 47 bed 24/7 homeless hostel, the Number Five Hub, providing rough sleeper accommodation for rough sleepers in Guildford, our Homeless Prevention Floating Support Service and HOST, Guildford’s Homeless Outreach and support services working directly with rough sleepers on the streets of Guildford. Mike Jackson House operates a 24-hour veterans’ supported housing service. We also provide over 59 beds across Surrey to help homeless people move on and integrate back into society.

When the lockdown was introduced we worked in partnership with multiple agencies including Guildford Borough Council to support all rough sleepers off the streets and into accommodation to keep them safe during the pandemic.

Our top priority was to ensure that safety measures were in place to safeguard residents’ and staff. So we put together a contingency plan in place to cover all eventualities such as staff shortages. We recruited additional agency staff to cover colleagues who are ill, on annual leave off or self-isolating.

However, we have been able to use staff from other projects such as from St Saviours Dispersed team and Guildford Floating support as well as an asset officer from Riverside Direct (repairs and maintenance service) who have been very keen to support their colleagues in supported services like Vaughan House and the Number Five Hub. We have been able to comply with safe distancing by reducing the number of staff on each site by rotating them with long shifts rather than short shifts so that everyone there, including residents, can safely socially distance from each another as well as keeping the team much healthier instead of being in the scheme every day.

Our teams carry out daily phone calls to all our residents’ to check on their welfare and if they need any assistance or support. We also arrange daily food deliveries for those that need it, so that they maintain their nutrition and encourage people to stay safe indoors. Some groups from churches such as St Joseph Catholic Church in Guildford have been cooking hot dinners for our residents during the lockdown and delivering them to our projects, something we are truly grateful for.

Previously, support staff met with residents’ face-to-face, this has now been replaced with telephone conversations since the lockdown so that they continue getting the support they need.

Working in partnership with local agencies has been vital to ensure that residents in our services continue to receive essential medication. We are working in partnership with specialist services to ensure our customers receive the specialist health care and medication they need to stay safe, which I think really highlights the great relationships that we have with partner agencies.

Donations given to Vaughan House during the Covid-19 lockdown.

We are also very grateful to the community who have given their support by cooking meals and donating practical items. I really need to say a huge ‘thank you’ to the local retailers, businesses and charity groups who have given invaluable support during the lockdown by donating food produce and items to help our residents’ stay safe during the pandemic.

It has been fantastic to see our frontline staff to be recognised for their work, for example Queen Eleanor’s Junior School in Guilford sent lovely cards to our services in the area saying that they are heroes.

Queen Eleanor's Junior school cards sent to staff at Vaughan House, Guildford.

In April we took over the running of The Number Five Project which was traditionally a night shelter, and has now been transformed into a 24/7 Homeless Hub supporting rough sleepers throughout the day in collaboration with specialist mental health and addiction services, delivering Psychologically and Trauma Informed approaches to support those impacted by homelessness. These approaches help customers to increase their self-esteem, belief and hope, as part of their journey to achieve their goals.

Nationally we have had more than 210 frontline and back office colleagues who have stepped up to volunteer to provide extra support for Riverside’s customers to combat the impact of COVID-19.