It's hard to believe that it's almost a month since our night shelter was forced to close early for the season, due to the impact of the corona pandemic. Earlier this week we caught up with Vron, our night shelter coordinator, to find out what has been happening since and to hear how she has been working with a team of volunteers to continue to support the men who had nowhere else to turn.
It's four weeks since we had to close our night shelter. Was that an easy decision? Tell us what has been happening since then.
It was a heart-breaking and extremely difficult decision to close the night shelter early. Our fantastic volunteers kept going for as long as they could but for the safety of all involved and due to the escalation of restrictions given by the government and health providers, we felt we had no choice but to close in late March.
Thanks to our partnership with Manchester City Council and the Mayor of Greater Manchester's A Bed Every Night scheme, our 9 remaining guests were able to move into two hostels. The accommodation isn't perfect, but at least they have somewhere safe to sleep, somewhere safe to leave their possessions and a place to stay in the daytime. It is a much healthier set up than sleeping altogether in a hall, spending their days on the streets and meeting lots of different volunteers every night.
What have been some of the difficulties and challenges?
I think the most difficult aspect of these changes is that we just cannot spend time with the guests in the same way and our face to face communication is very limited. We're able to keep in regular contact on the phone, but it’s frustrating that we cannot keep our usual level of support going, through our weekly drop ins and through meeting the men at the evening reception or overnight venues each week.
Finding enough food to give out each week has been tricky and time consuming, especially in the early days of the lockdown when lots of people were panic buying and many products were limited to one or two per customer in our local supermarkets. This situation was made even more difficult due to there being no cooking / cold storage facilities in one of the hostels, so we've had to be quite creative in putting food parcels and supplies together.
How have our night shelter volunteers and supporters been able to get involved?
As always, our volunteers have stepped up in every way possible! They have filled a rota to provide individual hot meals each night and have generously given other food items (and some treats!) for the daytime. A local social enterprise, Cracking Good Food, have also signed up to provide fresh meals once a week and some of our volunteers who are physically unable to help have donated funds to pay for takeaway meals! We have extra volunteers who are helping to buy and deliver food parcels for us which really helps and gives another chance for some safe, socially distant human contact each week. It's so important that the men we work with know that they are valued and that they haven't been forgotten.
Apart from with their practical needs, now have you been able to support the men?
As most of us are aware, these times are challenging in lots of different ways. Meeting the basic needs of our guests is vital but it is also important that they know they are not alone. Having regular contact with Boaz staff and volunteers helps them to feel supported and cared for. We can listen to them via the phone, or when we're out delivering food, and we can help problem solve any issues where possible. For instance, one man told us that there were no cleaning products available and he felt scared of contracting coronavirus. The next day, we delivered appropriate cleaning items and reassured them all about how to keep themselves safe. We've also been able to provide money so that the men are able to wash clothes and bedding at a local launderette.
Usually our night shelter finishes at the end of April. What will happen then?
Our plan is to keep supporting our guests for as long as they are in this temporary accommodation- and this will extend beyond the end of our regular season. As always, at this time of year, there are a number of men who are now at the top of our waiting list to move into longer term Boaz accommodation, however we know this will be more difficult this year due to delays in our longer term Boaz clients being able to move on. It can feel a bit like ‘one day at a time’ right now but with the support of the Boaz team and our amazing volunteers and supporters, we know that we can continue the same level of quality care that we always give.
Looking ahead to the longer term, this is the time of year when we should be planning our end of year volunteer thank you event and looking forward to the next season! At the moment, we don't know when and how the lockdown will be lifted . Despite this, we're still starting to think about the next season and what the night shelter might need to look like- watch this space for more information in the weeks and months ahead!
How can people get involved?
We want to make sure that we can continue to provide food, toiletries and cleaning supplies on a regular basis, not just for the nine men who are now in this temporary accommodation but also for our other clients who are staying in Boaz accommodation at this time. We're trying to use wholesale shops and other suppliers to make the money stretch as far as possible, and every penny helps. [Click here to find out more and make a donation towards our work providing for peoples' basic needs].
Thank you so much to Vron for taking time out to share this update with us, and thank you to everyone who has been so generous with time, food and money. We are so grateful to all of you!