Simon Community Scotland is working across Glasgow and Edinburgh to support those experiencing homelessness and addiction during COVID-19.
Self-isolation is the main strategy in fighting the spread of COVID-19 but for homeless people this has not been possible. They are facing particular challenges when it comes to living through the pandemic and Simon Community Scotland operating across Edinburgh and Glasgow is providing high levels of support across a range of areas in response.
The Simon Community provides services to people experiencing homelessness by connecting them to housing, but essentially by working with people to attend to the trauma that has ultimately led to homelessness and often addiction. During COVID-19 the organisation has had to work rapidly to support people.
Hugh Hill, Director of Services at the Simon Community says the initial work of the organisation was educating people on the dangers of COVID-19. Due to the people they support not being particularly well connected there was a dearth of knowledge about the outbreak and the essential public health messages that were being shared throughout the population.
With people living on the streets and at continued risk of exposure, the Simon Community’s work saw them providing accommodation in three hotels across Glasgow and Edinburgh to 140 people, not only providing a safe place to stay but also allowing them the opportunity to self-isolate. It took only 72 hours from making agreements with hotels, to securing funding from the Scottish Government to put the whole plan into action. This rapid response is proving successful, particularly due to the Edinburgh site’s integrated approach to healthcare.
Bringing people into a temporary accommodation service has opened up the opportunity to engage people in other services. In Edinburgh, the Simon Community is working alongside a raft of agencies including the NHS to provide healthcare support. This ranges from harm reduction to making Community Psychiatric Nurses available via phone and online channels and providing prescribing and sexual health services. Support is on offer from the morning through to the evening and people are getting the help they need. Under COVID-19 conditions sectors have pulled together to provide the kind of support Hugh would like to see ongoing: “We’re already thinking about the exit plan because none of us want to go back to the way it was. So how do we make sure that happens? We don’t want people back on the street again.”
The Simon Community’s swift reaction to COVID-19 has largely been down to the frontline staff moving into uncertain territory with commitment, willingness and passion. Taking the initiative when people were given seven day take home methadone prescriptions, staff acted quickly to tackle the vulnerabilities to overdose and potential targeting of people by providing individual safes for storage whereby staff or individuals can hold the key to increase safety.
Actions such as these are indicative of the Simon Community’s ways of working, said Hugh: “We’ve got a saying within the organisaton which is ‘make it simple, make it right, make it happen’ and that’s the philosophy. We put a lot of energy into delegating down.” Empowering staff to do their jobs on the ground with full support is clearly paying off.
Maintaining connections with people accessing services has been a central part of the Simon Community’s strategy. Hugh said this has been crucial: “We’ve had to redesign our services on the hoof. So in some services we’re giving out Chromebooks to some service users so we can connect with them online. We’ve spent over £4,000 on mobile phones so people can stay in contact with us.” This connection provides an essential sense of community at a time when people are facing higher levels of isolation than usual, a risk factor for those experiencing addiction.
COVID-19 is showing the third sector to be at its most fleet of foot in responding to crisis conditions and the Simon Community has reacted with determination in light of the pandemic. In short, the outbreak is proving what can be achieved across services when will and funding meet. The Simon Community’s response could prove to be something of a blueprint for the future.