Covid-19 pandemic: Homeless charities in Northern Ireland warn of surge in demand for help

Nicola McCrudden

Leaders of homeless charities are expecting a significant increase in demand for services due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The warning comes from Nicola McCrudden, COVID-19 liaison manager for the homeless sector, who has been working closely with Northern Ireland service providers.  

Ms McCrudden said: “Based on economic forecasts, there is a real risk that people could start losing their homes because they can’t afford to pay the rent or mortgage. We are already seeing more people becoming homeless as family and sharing arrangements break down. Preparing for exiting and the new norm is critically important for homeless service providers and those who rely upon them for temporary accommodation and support. Charities working in the homeless sector need to be adequately resourced and ready to meet increasing need in both the short and long term.”

Demand for temporary accommodation in the north of Ireland is always high and the coronavirus outbreak has placed additional pressures on hostel accommodation. Ms McCrudden added.

‘Considerable challenges lie ahead and homeless services want to do their bit to make sure no one is left on the streets’

“Providers have responded to the new challenges in many ways, by adapting services and introducing new measures to ensure the safety of residents and staff. Some of this has meant having to reduce bed capacity to keep numbers to a safe and manageable level and setting some units aside for people who need to self-isolate.”

As part of the preparations for exiting lockdown, a small sector working group has been set up. The homeless operations COVID-19 group will document the experiences of homeless services during the pandemic and identify what services and practices need to continue or change to best meet the needs of clients in the short-medium term. It will also anticipate challenges and how the sector might prepare in the longer term.  

Ms McCrudden, who will chair the group, said: “It is important that we capture the learning from this crisis to inform future practice. Considerable challenges lie ahead and homeless services want to do their bit to make sure no one is left on the streets and that safe, supported temporary accommodation is available to homeless people who need it.”

The out-workings from this group will feed into the Housing Executive’s exit planning process.  

Ms McCrudden added: “We are working closely with statutory partners including the Department for Communities, the Housing Executive, Public Health Agency, Health and Social Care and the Probation Service to respond to this crisis. Homelessness needs a multi-agency response and moving forward this will become even more critical.”  

Membership of the group has been drawn from heads of operations in Depaul, Extern, First Housing, Housing Rights, Salvation Army, Simon Community, and the Welcome Organisation.