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Homeless person sleeping on the ground ;

Supporting homeless people during COVID-19

Katherine Horsham, Operations Officer at the King’s Entrepreneurship Institute, has volunteered with the homeless community for over nine years. We spoke to Katherine about how her voluntary work has changed in response to COVID-19 and how she is supporting homeless people during this difficult time.

780x440 Katherine-Horsham

How did you first get involved in volunteering?

Pre-lockdown, I volunteered for a local homeless shelter initiative run through the church network in Tower Hamlets called GrowTH. People would be placed in the shelter based on referrals from organisations like Crisis and No First Night Out as well as local GP practices. I’ve been volunteering with Crisis at Christmas for years, but it has been really rewarding to provide this sort of support – cooking meals, preparing beds and providing company – on a more regular basis.

How has your voluntary work changed in response to COVID-19?

All volunteers for GrowTH were invited to start volunteering for St Mungo’s, a charity that has been playing a leading role in running new shelters set up at several hotels around London. I put my hand up straight away, as did so many other people – it took me a while to get my first shift because of the many offers of help which is amazing. It was so positive to see such a rapid response from the whole sector working to support homeless people. Lockdown is hard enough without having a safe place to live and self-isolate. I just can’t imagine it and I would hope someone would help me if I was in that situation.

Can you describe a typical shift at the new shelters?

Shifts generally last from the early morning to the afternoon. You arrive for an important briefing and collect your PPE and then get straight on with preparing to distribute breakfast to the guests’ rooms and to do a daily wellbeing check-in. After breakfast, it’s usually time to sort out the food store. With catering arriving three times a day and so many generous donations, it’s easy to lose track of what’s there. There also might be laundry to collect or give back to guests. Then it’s back to serving lunch. In the afternoon I might help with some office admin tasks and setting up phones for guests to borrow to keep in touch with their families.

I’ve been working with ten or so other volunteers so far. Some people have been furloughed and are wanting to use their time productively, which is inspirational when they could be just indoors watching Netflix!

What has the community response been like?

I’d say that not many people know about what’s happening with these homeless shelters. Things are moving so fast and there’s a lot of messaging and updates to take in about the current situation and what this means for all vulnerable groups. But it’s nice to know that when Clap for our Carers happens on Thursdays that a little bit of that is for me and the other volunteers helping at St Mungo’s.

At the moment, it’s more about knowing that you are doing your little bit to help. It’s nothing ground-breaking – giving out food, etc. – but it’s what many people need right now.– Katherine Horsham, Operations Officer at King’s Entrepreneurship and volunteer with St Mungo’s

What has been the highlight of your volunteering experience?

Usually the special moments come from guest interaction, but that’s not really possible right now. I did really enjoy using my tidying skills to sort out the donated food stock though! At the moment, it’s more about knowing that you are doing your little bit to help. It’s nothing ground-breaking – giving out food, etc. – but it’s what many people need right now. I think it’s a good reminder that for all our usual talk about innovation and breaking barriers, that there’s something to be said for just getting on with the tasks that make the world go round. I think we’ve collectively understood this with our celebration of key workers, who are usually people we overlook in society – now they are rightly in the spotlight.

It’s also great to be bringing my personal interest to support homeless people into my work here at King’s – that’s what’s so great about working in a university! I’m part of a project team looking to understand what King’s can uniquely do to reduce street homelessness within our local communities of Westminster, Southwark and Lambeth. More will be released on this soon!

How can others get involved in what you’re doing?

Despite these unfortunate events, we have an amazing opportunity. Many homeless people are now off the streets and safe, and a lot of important work is going on behind the scenes to keep it that way. What we need is public support for the campaign to ‘Build Back Better’ and help thousands of people off the streets for good.

Find out more about the work of St Mungo's.

Visit the #ContinuingToServe webpage to discover the many ways in which King’s people like Katherine are making a difference during COVID-19, let us know how you can help or discover existing projects that need support.

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