A new report has found that homeless services underwent significant change during the Covid-19 pandemic, including a move towards single occupancy rooms.
The research, conducted by the Simon Communities of Ireland, found that successful outcomes in relation to emergency accommodation, increased engagement with rough sleepers and innovative responses to drug use, emerged through enhanced co-operation with local authorities and the Health Service Executive (HSE) during the pandemic.
The First Wave Covid-19 Report, evaluates the responses of the eight Simon Communities in Ireland to the challenges posed by Covid-19 from the point of view of the Simon Communities and of key statutory (Local Authority and Health Service Executive) respondents.
It looks at the responses across the eight regions in which Simon operates between March and August 2020.
According to the report, steps were successfully taken to decrease the number of people in any given emergency hostel, to move residents to other services and facilities and to ensure that isolation sites were established.
The lead author of the report, Joe Finnerty of the School of Applied Social Studies at University College Cork (UCC), however, said that ongoing research will be needed in order to monitor whether the “gains achieved by Simon services during Covid-19 will be maintained post-pandemic”.
The successful responses to emergency accommodation and self-isolation and innovative responses to drug use, came with enhanced co-operation with local authorities and the HSE.
According to Wayne Stanley, Head of Policy and Communications at the Simon Communities of Ireland, such work needs to be maintained going forward.
“The report finds that the success of the interventions resulted from having good services in place prior to the pandemic and the positive collaboration between services, local authorities and the HSE,” he said.
Mr Stanley said that during the pandemic, clients were assessed to determine who was more vulnerable to the virus and in conjunction with the HSE and Local Authorities, apartments and other short-term lets were secured for those deemed at risk.
He questioned why such measures were not introduced before the pandemic.
Mr Stanley noted the isolation experienced by many clients throughout the pandemic as being “really challenging for some”.
“Covid-19 restrictions exacerbated the isolation that homelessness brings,” he said.
“This re-enforces our experience that the answer to homelessness is always a home. People do need that foundation in their lives. They need to be part of their communities.
He said that Housing First and housing-led solutions to homelessness must be expanded and outlined the need for one and two-bedroom accommodation.
“The best policies on homelessness will not work without that infrastructure,” he added.
The First Wave Covid-19 Report is the first of three reports. The first report focussed on the challenges faced by individual Simon Communities to reorganise services in response to Covid-19 from a staff perspective.
The second report will focus on service users experience of how the response was developed and implemented while the third will draw together these experiences and look at the impact that the experience can have on the national response to homelessness post-Covid-19.