In this together - Emergency grants fund: blog update

Chris Hancock, Head of Best Practice

I wanted to give an update on our In This Together Fund which we have been running for the past three weeks. Our aim was to support local homelessness organisations who are at the most acute end of the response to coronavirus, so they can carry on helping people who are homeless and particularly at risk from the virus.

The word unprecedented seems to be getting a lot of airing at the moment, but for good reason. The way homelessness services work has had to change pretty much overnight, with day centres and night-shelters having to close and turn into outreach operations. All of this has both increased costs but also impacted on income as rents and all the other creative ways organisations brought in money (hiring their space, delivering training, running shops) has been stopped.

We set up two funds, one for grants up to £5k and another for longer term changes to services up to £50k using a mixture of grant funding we had set aside for innovation projects, contingency budgets and helped by a fundraising campaign which has seen an incredibly generous response from the public.

We knew there would be huge demand but probably not this much and mainly for the £5k fund - which 80% of all the applications have asked for. With hindsight it is probably too soon for anyone to know really what their services will look like after this.

We had to pause the fund for new applications last week as we had received 340 applications from across the UK. We wanted to make sure we could still manage the process efficiently, and also try to secure further funding to continue the programme.

We tried to keep the application process as light touch as possible, given the organisations applying don't tend to have bid writers and people running things are busy running things. We have also tried to turn applications round in a few days, getting money out as quickly as possible as for many organisations, funds are needed immediately.

We have funded a huge range of projects. Food packages, individual cleaning packs, deep cleaning for hostels, the creation of self-isolation spaces, online interpretation services, mobiles, tablets and laptops for people in isolation, PPE, additional staffing to provide outreach, and rent top-ups to support people newly out of work.

We have been able to support charities providing tailored support to people who would find it hard to access mainstream services even under usual circumstances. People who don’t have recourse to public funds but like all of us need to stay safe, women fleeing domestic violence but who are forced to stay at home and young people who just cannot maintain an existence of sofa surfing anymore.

The larger grants have proposed more significant changes to the way services will be delivered, introducing specific advocacy workers to support people threatened with illegal eviction during the moratorium, helping domestic violence services to provide online and outreach services, and adding capacity to resettlement teams getting people moved out of hotels and into their own home.

In the blog, I wrote to introduce the fund I wrote that we knew we would be funding things which don't necessarily end people's homelessness, and this has been true. We have funded things that before this we would have challenged as too short-term, but they are needed whilst the whole homelessness sector works out how to respond to this.

However, this crisis has potentially given us a platform to do something we were told was not possible, but that we know works in ending homelessness: preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place, but when it does happen, getting them into their own home as quickly as possible. People are now indoors - albeit not enough of them and there are still people who are hidden and sharing spaces which exposes them to harm - but we have shown what can be done.

All of our aims should now be to not go backwards, not go back to a point where people were denied the security and protection of housing because of where they were born, were they happen to have lived a few years ago or whether they were deemed vulnerable enough. So, whilst I am proud we are helping with this fund, ultimately, we have to get to the point where if we are ever faced by something as devastating as this again, we can all rely on the protection of a home.

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