Skip links
Published on: Covid-19

Peter Stapleton — Covid-19 on the frontline of Homeless Services

“Most people have their own house where they can shelter and self-isolate to prevent Covid-19, they can cocoon if they need to and they can do it themselves on their own terms. But for those experiencing homelessness, this is a luxury they just don’t have.”

The outbreak of Covid-19 has had a huge impact on those experiencing homelessness, putting so many already vulnerable people at increased risk. We want to share with you the experiences from our dedicated staff and volunteers working in our frontline services and how they are giving homeless people in the West a voice.

My name is Peter and I am a Service Manager with Galway Simon where I run two services. One is an Emergency Servicewhich currently supports 10 men who are experiencing homelessness and who would otherwise be sleeping rough. The second service is a Supported Housing Service which is currently a home to 6 older gentlemen that for the most part, have experienced entrenched homelessness over the years and would have experienced trauma in the lives.

People in and out of homelessness are in one of the most difficult times of their lives and this is then compounded by this situation that they’ve to worry about.

Most people have their own house where they can shelter and self-isolate to prevent Covid-19, they can cocoon if they need to and they can do it themselves on their own terms. They can make decisions for themselves and they’re not affected by the decision of a manager for example to close their living room.

Can you imagine if someone came into your house and said “that’s it, I’ve to close your living room”?

I know I wouldn’t be happy. And then to have decisions made for you in the place where you reside. I think it hammers back to people that this is temporary, this is emergency, and really this isn’t their home. I think it probably reinforces to our clients that they are homeless and I’d say that must be really difficult.

Social distancing has been a little bit of an issue. People are doing their best to keep the spirits up but it has changed the atmosphere. Unfortunately due to the guidelines, we have had to close the communal areas in our services. It’s a major issue because there was a real sense of fun and community from our communal areas and that’s gone, for now. But we know that this is only temporary, and that it’s an issue for everybody.

A lot of the clients seem to be taking all of this very much in their stride but some clients are very worried about it. Some have completely isolated themselves and won’t leave their rooms whatsoever.

The changes in routine are having a negative effect on people.

For example, one of the men has mental health issues and he’d need a certain amount of contact. His social distancing isn’t great so he can find it quite difficult to remember not to go into the kitchen or to remember not to do certain things because of Covid-19. And that has led to an increase in his anxiety. I’m sure it’s difficult on him because he’s managing huge levels of anxiety with a conflicting need for contact and he was struggling with it a little bit, but he seems to be doing ok now.

A lot of the work we do, and we do very well, would be behind closed doors. We would usually get in a room together, both with our team and with our clients, to look for plans and strategies to help people out of homelessness. This still goes on, but it goes on in different settings now. The professional rapport we have with clients has suffered a little bit from it, but the key workers are still doing their job and are doing it well.  We’re trying to make people’s lives easier in a really difficult time.

In our Emergency Service, we have had to reduce the number of beds available to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and to make everybody safer in the house. Everyone now has a room of their own, a private space where they can self-isolate. This is a positive thing because in doing this, we were able to expedite some move ons that were already in train and we are pleased to have moved 5 clients out of our Emergency Service into a home of their own.

Our biggest challenge at the moment is keeping everybody in here as healthy and as safe as possible. Because many of the men in our services have underlying health issues, they are at higher risk. So we are dealing with the very real fear that someone could get very sick, very quickly and we would have to manage that inside the services.

Antonio Lopez
Housing Support Officer

Self-isolation works best when there is a community around you. Most homeless people are truly isolated – exposed, vulnerable, and sometimes with underlying health issues, which places them at even higher risk. For them, this is an especially terrifying time.

If you can manage it in the current circumstances, please support Galway Simon today so that we can make sure that nobody is left to face this crisis alone.