Sarah Rogers, Housing Development Manager at Nottinghamshire YMCA
As the impact of the coronavirus pandemic rages on across our nation, charities around the UK are working hard to ensure our community’s most vulnerable members are kept safe and not left behind as we begin to forge our society’s ‘new normal’.
From April 2019–April 2020, Nottinghamshire YMCA provided 1,073 homeless individuals with a safe place to live alongside bespoke keyworker engagement to help them work towards regaining their independence. With the pandemic creating new challenges, putting extra pressure on people’s mental health, finances and sense of stability – never before has it been so important that our charity remains firmly here to help.
‘We’re all in this together’
Sarah Rogers, who is a Housing Development Manager at Nottinghamshire YMCA’s supported housing provision in Nottingham, shares below an insight into what it is like supporting YMCA residents, many of whom have complex needs, during a national crisis.
“Having worked for supported housing organisations for more than 15 years, I first joined the regional charity two years ago as I’ve always wanted to help people as my primary driving force,” Sarah explained.
“I’m a firm believer in values-led organisations, and my previous work for a Christian company led me to joining Nottinghamshire YMCA. My role involves managing and developing the charity’s services in Nottingham, including our city centre accommodation on Shakespeare Street and Peachy Street plus our Complex Needs Service.
“On a daily basis, I manage everything from supporting Tenancy Support Officers in delivering keyworker sessions with residents to appealing for donations and hosting multi-agency meetings. I’m a strong believer in taking action and like to get stuck in and get my hands dirty. We are all in this together.”
‘Navigating an unprecedented wave of social isolation’
“These past few months, we have seen a much greater need for community support and donations to help our residents navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and cope with an unpreceded wave of social isolation,” Sarah continued.
“A big part of our charity’s role is to help residents build and maintain lasting positive social relationships with their peers, family and professionals. The lockdown has meant that residents cannot see loved ones which is often their lifeline, making daily life incredibly difficult.”
Although the streets may still seem quiet, life has not stopped for the people who live at the YMCA’s supported housing.
“We are very much still actively going to visit residents as it is more important than ever before to check they are okay,” Sarah explained. “Residents still have personal needs that we must continue to address – many feel so isolated and need physical human engagement which is tricky in the current climate. The pandemic has given rise to additional issues such as increased mental health challenges.
“People are scared which is understandable, and because of COVID-19, mental health is our biggest challenge at the moment. There has been a notable increase in some residents feeling more depressed and/or suicidal as social distancing throws up new life challenges or exacerbates existing health conditions.
“For those people who are displaying mental health issues, we are increasing their interaction with keyworkers to mitigate some of their personal trigger factors. It is our responsibility to ensure residents are both mentally and physically safe and, if anything, more visits and staff checks are needed at the moment. We are trying to reduce the amount of face-to-face encounters and increase phone meetings where possible, but one key difficulty is that not everyone living at the YMCA has access to a phone.”
Social distancing exacerbates mental health issues
During the lockdown, Nottinghamshire YMCA closed the hostel’s communal areas and stopped visitors coming into the properties to help protect residents by reducing the risk of bringing infection into the shared spaces.
To support residents safely, staff members are required to wear PPE where appropriate and everyone adheres to strict social distancing measures. A rolling staff rota has enabled the YMCA to reduce people numbers in the building whilst maintaining security at all times.
Sarah explained: “The necessary social restrictions have been of course very difficult, particularly because as a movement we are committed to helping our residents build meaningful relationships so they can work towards achieving independent living and contribute positively to society.
“Although we have still been hosting breakfast, we have put down 2-metre distance markers to ensure people are social distancing and we leave food outside bedrooms for those who are self-isolating or shielding.
“When our residents are self-isolating, underlying issues such as mental health difficulties or drug/alcohol addiction can rear their heads and heighten a person’s feelings, which can place extra worry upon an already stressful situation. We have so far been very fortunate with COVID-19 thanks to the fantastic efforts of our residents and staff team in meticulously executing our safety measures.”
‘YMCA cannot thank our community enough’
“The craze of bulk buying, particularly in the beginning of the outbreak, made it even more difficult for residents to access affordable food they needed,” said Sarah. “We cannot thank our community supporters enough for rallying to the cause and donating food and essential provisions during the lockdown to ensure our residents remained nourished throughout the pandemic.”
In addition to kind-hearted individuals contributing food and toiletries, local businesses such as vegan café Numinumsand churches have made one-off and weekly donations, with restaurants such as Yamas, Bar Imberico and Capital One (via Open Kitchens) donating more than 12,000 meals for residents to enjoy during the crisis.
“COVID is still very much fresh in people’s minds and the experiences are raw – the genuine gratitude we receive from residents for the food and support is really touching and reminds us why we are here,” said Sarah.
“This is a really tough time for residents, and donations of games and activities have also been instrumental as what many people really need is something to keep their mind occupied positively to help mitigate negative thoughts.”
‘We’re all in this fight against homelessness together’
“No matter what walk of life you are from, homelessness will most likely affect us all at some point – whether it a friend struggling or a person you pass on the street,” said Sarah. “We are all in this fight together and we can help each other in different ways.
“I’m always touched when I see residents who want to get involved with making the hostel a better place to live. After receiving support, they want to give something back. For me, the most rewarding thing is seeing a person who has journeyed through homelessness move on positively having received meaningful support from us. This could be achieving independent living or progressing from our intensive support hostels to a lower support needs transitional property in the community – this is a really big achievement for them and we’ve been part of their personal success.
“The human compassion demonstrated by our community during this pandemic has shown that we can protect our society’s homeless and vulnerable groups through this crisis if we pull together and dissipate the consequences of social isolation by celebrating social unity. Thank you to all our supporters for being there when we needed you the most.”