What will we take forward from the coronavirus crisis?

As we slowly return to normal, we should remember the fortitude and solidarity shown during the crisis and use it to tackle the challenges we still face, writes Riversides Chief Executive Carol Matthews….

While the last few months have been nothing like normal, it does feel like there’s a degree of normality returning to work and to life as lockdown lifts. I don’t know what we’ll remember most as time wears on, but there are a few things I hope we don’t forget.

I hope we remember the heroism of frontline workers, who have been rightly celebrated through-out COVID-19 and should continue to be so. That includes the healthcare staff supporting those who get sick, but also those such as the frontline staff in housing associations who’ve continued to support vulnerable people in social housing, supported housing or retirement living.

I hope we remember the incredible effort required to get ‘Everybody In’, which has now helped 15,000 out of rough sleeping and homelessness. Particularly, I want us to remember the feeling of working in partnership across Local Authority, sector or organisational lines to get people the accommodation they needed.

I hope we remember people like Amanda, a resident in the hotel Riverside have been managing in Manchester, who shared her story with the BBC earlier this month. She’s had a difficult path through eight years of sleeping rough and countless traumas besides, but the COVID-19 pandemic has changed things and she’s now flourishing inside and thinking about what she wants to do next.

I hope we remember that issues like homelessness, which COVID-19 has brought into focus, take many years to get to this scale. We can take great strides forward in times of crisis but only through sustained action and prevention can we bring an end to them. The term ‘strides’ is very real to me this month, as I’ve challenged myself to do 10,000 steps a day for the Churches Homeless Trust, an organisation that’s been doing great work supporting people who are homeless for many years and is needed even more now!

A health crisis like this really shines a light on how fundamental housing is to people’s wellbeing. We, as a sector, have stepped up to the challenge when under the spotlight, but that doesn’t change the underlying issues that have existed for years.

In March, Riverside launched new research looking at commissioning trends in homelessness. This research from Imogen Blood Associates and Professor Nicholas Pleace highlights some of these underlying issues, including the need for long-term, stable funding for housing support as well as affordable housing. It also recognises the need to focus on homelessness prevention services, such as money advice and tenancy sustainment, as well as crisis intervention.

The challenge is on now, for us to get ‘Everybody In’ for good. If we are going to achieve this then we need to address the shortage of affordable housing. And we need to ensure that homelessness services have access to the funding they need to provide a quality service, to plan for the future and to prevent us from reaching a homelessness crisis of this level ever again.

As we go back to something like normal, I hope we remember the fortitude and the solidarity that has been shown, and I hope we use it to address the challenges that are still there. We know what we can achieve – let’s make it happen.

As published in Inside Housing on 30 June 2020.

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