The onset of the pandemic and the five weeks since we closed our day centre seem to have burned past in a blur for me, our teams and most of the homelessness sector. Like many, we have fast adapted our services to remote delivery, while others have focused on getting street homeless people accommodated in hotels.
As the pandemic progresses, it is clear this powerful sprint is turning into a more paced but unpredictable marathon. Settling into this new stage, I took some time with colleagues to look back as well as forward to see how we can use our learning from those initial weeks – a period like no other in our 53 year history.
When much is unstable, you can lean on your values
When I joined New Horizon two years ago, I took the time to talk to staff and young people about what made the secret sauce of our way of working. From this we redefined our values that cut to the core of our approach: responding, collaborating, being our word and starting with strengths.
Reflecting on what had worked well in our initial Covid-19 response, our Management Team articulated these four values time and again. We had acted quickly, communicated with young people and partners to find the best ways to use our strong points and assets, and focused on the gaps that most needed filling for young people and others.
In a time of crisis our values felt solid and true, as they should be: a reminder that despite the chaos around us, we were working as we always would.
Playing the right role at the right time
During disasters or fast changing circumstances, different groups need to adopt different roles. To use a war metaphor, the frontline may need to change or could do with reinforcements, for instance.
As a day centre, it became heartbreakingly clear early on that we would have to close our doors. We have moved most of our frontline work online, and turned our attention to how we could help others. How might our building be used for wider homelessness support in Camden or London? How could some of our staff be redeployed to help out in the newly established hotels or in projects of other homeless providers experiencing staff shortages?
This crisis will have many different stages; each stage with a different set of needs. New Horizon is going to play the long game and be ready to do more, step up and join frontlines where needed. We will do all we can to help others.
The crisis reinforces existing disadvantages
Normally I spend most of my time with decision makers to argue that young people are forgotten when it comes to housing and an afterthought in homelessness support. Our great fear is that this crisis risks stacking the odds further against young people.
Young people’s housing, work and health needs are all going to take a hit. A collective recession will impact jobs and benefits, and the collective trauma will have long lasting mental and physical health consequences, with disadvantaged and BAME communities particularly affected.
The response from government, the GLA and local authorities towards the needs of people experiencing homelessness has been fraught but largely impressive. As their attention turns from the initial crisis to longer term plans, we need to ensure that the needs of young people will get a specific place.
What will happen to young people when the Covid-19 rough sleeping provision closes its doors? Where can the thousands of hidden homeless (most of whom are young) go during and after lockdown? How do we support young people being kicked out of the family home following tensions and abuse? How will we make sure that working, renting and living in this city works when you are paid less and are more likely to have less security of contract?
Young people are 25% of the population in London and the total of our future. As we make plans for how we emerge from the pandemic, then let’s make sure that they are front and centre in our minds.
Chief Executive, New Horizon Youth Centre
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