On the frontline with Shelter services during coronavirus

On the frontline with Shelter services during coronavirus

Stay at home.

On the face of it, a straightforward piece of advice from the government. But at Shelter we know it’s not that simple.

What if you’re street homeless, bedding down in shop doorways? What if your family is stuck living in one room temporary accommodation with a shared bathroom and kitchen, making it impossible to self-isolate?

This unprecedented public health crisis has collided head on with the existing housing emergency. While our homes have become a central component in the fight against coronavirus, the reality is that even before this outbreak, millions of people across the country did not have a safe and secure place to call home.

Over the last month, as the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on people’s lives has become apparent, we have seen an increase in people coming to us in need of urgent support and housing advice. We’ve heard from people worried about losing their jobs and keeping up with rent. Others have been threatened with illegal evictions, and some have come to us for advice as they are fleeing domestic abuse and are threatened with homelessness.

For decades we have defended people’s right to a safe home, but doing this is now more important than ever. During this health crisis, ensuring that our services can continue to provide urgent support and advice remains our priority.  

Thanks to the incredible generosity of our supporters and the dedication of our team, our frontline services have risen to this challenge. We’ve adapted how we deliver our support in the face of the pandemic and made sure that anyone facing urgent housing issues or homelessness during the outbreak can access help. Find out how below.

Online and telephone advice

We’ve made sure our online advice and information is as up to date as possible and available at the click of a button. Alongside a new coronavirus and housing advice page, which provides advice on people’s rights and the latest government legislation, our web chat advice service is available Monday to Friday, 9-5pm. In the last month[1], our advisers have responded to 2,091 web chats, 48% of which were directly related to the impact of coronavirus.

For anyone homeless or at risk and in need of urgent housing advice, our emergency helpline is open 365 days year. But since the coronavirus outbreak, we’ve seen an increase in people needing help. In the last month alone, we received a total of 24,134 calls, which is an increase of 18% compared to the previous month. And of the calls answered, over half were directly related to the impact of coronavirus.

To help meet demand across these platforms, we have so far retrained 22 face-to-face advisers and solicitors to work across our digital and telephone advice services.

For many, these services are a lifeline. And stories of the people we are helping are a reminder of this. After lockdown began, our adviser Karen spoke to a pregnant woman whose family was at risk of homelessness. Karen spoke to the council on her behalf, and they are now doing a full housing assessment of their needs. In these difficult times, as the caller put it: ‘Karen gave me a little bit of hope’.

In fact, many of our advisers are going above and beyond to ensure people get the help they need, something exemplified by another helpline adviser, Nadeem. He isn’t letting thousands of miles come between him and people in need of urgent housing advice. Nadeem, who usually works in Sheffield on our helpline, was visiting family in Lahore, Pakistan when the coronavirus outbreak meant his flight home was cancelled.

Undeterred, Nadeem has set up a rooftop office space and is providing advice to people via our web chat service. Nadeem said: ‘Even though I’m here in Pakistan, being able to work on the web chat service and give people online advice means that I can play my part in trying to help people through this crisis and keep them safe in their homes.’

Read more from Nadeem about the people he’s helping.

Local services

Shelter has 12 service ‘hubs’ located in local communities across the country. Although lockdown has meant moving from face-to-face to telephone and online advice where possible, our frontline advisers are continuing to be a much-needed source of specialist help and legal support.

Resolving cases is not always straightforward during this time, but our advisers know that their help can make all the difference – and feedback from the people we help is a continual reminder of this. Our London adviser Deborah recently helped a woman who had been forced to leave her hostel, was pregnant, and facing domestic abuse.

Deborah helped find her a settled home, and received a lovely letter in thanks, saying: ‘I honestly don’t want to end the journey with my adviser, but all my problems are solved and it makes me happy to know there are good workers out there. Especially in these circumstances.’

Our services are also continuing to work in partnership with other organisations to make sure the right help is available to people. Just a few examples of this include collaborating with other local charities to help people access food, help people manage bills, help them access medication, or access other essential items during this pandemic.

Here’s a snapshot of how four of our local services are helping people during the lockdown.

Across the board, our advisers are working tirelessly to be there for anyone needing urgent support or advice. And every day, we hear from people who show us that our services are needed more now than ever. One of our advisers in Lancashire recently spoke to a young man who had no money and hadn’t eaten for days. He didn’t know what to do. Our adviser arranged a food voucher via the local food bank delivery service, and for him to get a takeaway and hot drink while he waited for his food parcel.

At the end of the call, he just cried. He didn’t think there were any kind people still out there.

All of us, in some way, are feeling the impact of coronavirus on our daily lives. As this crisis continues to unfold it’s clear that many of us will need help and advice to stay in our homes over the coming weeks and months.

With your support, Shelter will continue to defend the right to a safe home and be there for anyone who needs us, both during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.

Please donate, sign our petition, and share our coronavirus housing advice page. If you need housing advice, please visit www.shelter.org.uk/gethelp

Together, we can get through this. 

You can read more about how we designed our digital advice response to coronavirus this blog by our service design team.

[1] 16 March–16 April 2020