- written by Alison Bearn, Programme Lead 

Want to read another blog banging on about Covid-19 transition planning, lessons learnt etc.? No, nor do we... 

A lot of people are writing about the learnings from Covid-19 and how to use them to shape the future design and delivery of services. Initially, we wrote a lengthy, ponderous blog about learning and transitioning from Covid-19. But – we couldn’t work out why it didn’t feel right or why we were feeling so irritable as we typed. We kept writing things like ‘new normal’ and ‘transition’.  

Then we realised what was bugging us. It was because so much what we arnow labeling as ‘learning’, as being potentially new, shiny and transformative are all the things that we and so many others have been shouting about for years!  What’s important to us now is the same that it always has been.  The difference is that now people are listening. People have seen what can be achieved when communities, councils and the voluntary sector pull together out of kindness and passion. And it is amazing. 

That said, there have been some learnings, and a silver lining of the pandemic is that what we value and what’s important is now being brought to the forefront. So, here’s our take on a blog post looking toward the post-pandemic future... 

We need to learn from and listen to people with lived experience, and the people doing the work. 
There has been a lot written about learnings from Covid-19. There are endless Zoom meetings in every sector planning for the future. What appears to be largely missing from many of these discussions is the voice and experience of people who use the services We need to listen to the wisdom and hard-fought experience of the people using the services and systems, not make assumptions.  There is amazing work being undertaken by people like the Fulfilling Lives National Expert Citizen’s Group, Groundswell, Expert Link, Voices of Stoke, and many others to capture the insight and expertise of people with lived experience of multiple disadvantage. Collaboration, inclusivity and co-production are key. 

Flexibility is not frightening, it is fantastic! 
We have seen incredible things being created, literally overnight. People have come together out of carand a common purpose. Bureaucracy and red tape have been put to one side to make way for doing the best that can be done, powered by kindness, collaboration and flexibility.  Rigid service criteria have been flexed to provide responsive and personalised care. The usual lengthy assessment process of substance use services has been safely swapped with over the phone scripting using historical assessments and the judgement of experienced and committed workersBeing flexible works and it needs to stay! 

Housing safely 
An enormous effort was made to bring people off the streets and into safe accommodation. For some people, this was the first time they had come off the streets for years. A roof over one’s head doesn’t solve things overnight - but it is a good place to start. It is a whole lot easier to sort things out when you have an address and somewhere safe/r to stay. However, for many people this process was also frightening – people were placed in unfamiliar areas, sometimes with little access to the basic things – furniture, food, phones.  

As reported widely in the news, the lockdown saw an increase in domestic abuse and some of our female clients found the strict rules made it difficult to distance themselves from perpetrators. Women at risk were placed rapidly into accommodation. However, not all housing services have the necessary expertise in working with the dynamics of domestic abuse. It is essential that these women receive gender-informed support and support to move into safe housing so that building a safer future for themselves is a possibility 

The evidence for placing people into housing with intensive and personalised support is clear, just take a look at the Housing First model. FLIC have sucessfully piloted (and LB Islington have now funded) gender-informed Housing First for women fleeing domestic abuse. The wider adoption of Housing First and homelessness accommodation that is designed to meet the needs of people experiencing multiple disadvantage is essential. 

Flexible and responsive health care solutions  
People experiencing multipldisadvantage often have numerous health issues. The average life expectancy for a homeless man is 45 years and for a woman, it is 43 yearsHowever, a life of trauma and the stigma faced by many homeless people when accessing health care, means that, for many, their health needs go unmet 

Covid-19 brought an unprecedented focus on the health needs of people experiencing homelessness. For the first time, there was system-wide response that brought together health interventions and substance use services to rapidly and flexibly address the health needs of homeless people.  

The multi-agency teams that were assembled, in the space of a few days, to take health care into the Covid-1Protect hotels, brought health interventions to clients who had previously struggled to access health services and demonstrates the value of in-reach health care. FLIC have been piloting small-scale health in-reach into local hostels and have witnessed the transformative impact on those people previously deemed hard to reach. Covid-19 has shown us the benefit of this model and demonstrated what is possible.

The importance of kindness and relationships 
For many of us, Covid-19 has impacted on our mental health. For people already isolated, the closure of services, the loss of safe spaces and the difficulty of finding someone to talk to has compounded feelings of loneliness and anxiety. However, many of our clients have shown incredible resilience. We should never need reminding of this. 

For many of us, it was the combination of kindness and practical support that has helped us cope. Whether this be the worker who spent hours on the phone ‘just’ listening, or the volunteer who went out of their way to deliver food, or the outreach teams that worked day and night to get people off the street – it was kindness and the strength of our relationships that made everything possible. We can call this many things – being trauma or psychologically informed – but it boils down to taking the time to get to know people, to listen, to be compassionate and simply supporting people in the way that we too want to be supported.  

For many people experiencing multiple disadvantage, trauma and exclusion can make relationships difficult. It is essential that any future planning incorporates the importance of connectedness, kindness, collaboration, and an understanding of the impact of trauma. 

Looking after each other 
People have been working flat out, trying to do their best in impossible situations. There have been few breaks and the usual ways of releasing stress have not been there. There is no Zoom call in the world that can replace the impact of a hug, a cup of tea, the chance to have someone listen whilst you offload, or simply rant. We have done all that we can to support each other but many of us are feeling tired and a bit emotional right now!  

We now need to make sure that we put in place support for the people who have been working through Covid-19 to protect us all; whether this be counseling, wellbeing activities, de-briefing, mountains of cake – whatever works – to ensure that people know they are valued and cared for. Hard work and commitment need to be recognised, and people need to take time to reenergise to be able to move out of the pandemic and towards a kinder future.  

We know the future is uncertain. The financial impact of Covid-19 is going to be enormous and we have only just survived the cuts that ‘austerity’ entailed. It feels like this is a rare moment when things hang in the balance: Do we slide back to a fragmented system in which collaboration and service flex are the exception to the norm - or do we harness the transformative power of collaboration, co-production, and creativity? Covid-19 has shown us what can be done in the hardest of circumstances by people coming together. Our biggest resource is our ability and willingness to collaborate, to be flexible, to reach out, and be kind. For people experiencing multiple disadvantage, there is nothing more important than this. 

Hear from our clients and team, as they share their thoughts and experiences of the pandemic.