CANTERBURY OPEN CENTRE
The centre has now been closed for six weeks but we are still doing all we can to support the homeless in Canterbury during these difficult times. To comply with social distancing we have a skeleton staff team manning the office seven days a week. They coordinate our food service and provide support to rough sleepers who’ve been unable to move into accommodation. Since 30th March we have had 211 visits to the centre from rough sleepers needing assistance. We have helped these people to make contact with Canterbury Council, and other support agencies, and some of these have now moved into accommodation.
Those homeless people still waiting to be housed are able to access some of our facilities, as we allow one person in at a time to do their laundry, have a shower, or collect their post. We are also providing food parcels, bedding, mobile phones, credit and portable chargers so people can stay in touch with us and other support workers. The needle exchange, which we operate on behalf of the Forward Trust, has remained operational from 9-2pm each day. Our qualified mental health workers are offering mental health support by telephone.
We are accepting donations of food, sleeping bags, tents and art materials, especially coloured pencils, pastels, felt tips and acrylic paints. Due to lack of storage space we are not accepting donated clothes until further notice.
HOMELESS AT TRAVELODGE
Canterbury Council received government funding to accommodate up to 57 homeless people at the Travelodge in Canterbury. They began moving people in on 28th March, with a full team of support workers on hand 24 hours, to ensure those who in residence have all they need to comply with Government guidelines on lockdown. This team mainly comprises Rough Sleeper Initiative (RSI) staff from Canterbury City Council, Porchlight, Forward Trust and two Catching Lives staff members.
The council are paying us to provide three meals a day for all occupants for the duration of their stay. This is quite an undertaking, requiring us to prepare and deliver around 100 lunches and dinners each day, with breakfast food items for 50 people also being delivered by us when they need topping up at the Travelodge – as this meal does not need to be prepared at our centre. Under normal circumstances at this time of year we would expect to provide around 30-50 meals each day.
Because of the uncertainty around the level of fundraising income we could expect to receive during lockdown, we launched a fundraising appeal. We do not normally undertake this kind of appeal, but these were exceptional circumstances. Not only did we need to cover the additional costs related to providing a large number of meals, such as having to buy 1800 disposable takeaway cartons plus cutlery, every week, we also had to cover the costs of keeping the centre open, including wages of those still working, the utility bills and provision for unforeseen emergencies – like when our oven broke down! Thanks to the generosity of our community the appeal raised £7793.49.
With these extra funds we are now confident that we will be able to continue to provide this food service, and the other services still being provided to those still sleeping rough, for the duration of lockdown. Since people were moved in to the Travelodge we have provided them with 5477 meals. We have only achieved this thanks to the wonderful dedication of our volunteers. Due to social distancing measures we are limited to five volunteers each day (2 for lunch prep, 2 for dinner and a driver) but they are managing terrifically well making sure every shift is covered and every meal is delivered on time – even during a power cut.
WORKING WITH THE COMMUNITY
We are making the most of the generosity of our community by working with others supporting vulnerable people. In particular, any excess food we receive through donations and the Fareshare scheme that we are not able to use ourselves is passed onto individuals in need, and also to other organisations providing food services. In recent weeks these have included:
Prince of Wales Youth Club – packed lunches for children on the free school meals register
Thanington Resource Centre – food parcels for families in need on the Thanington estate
Whitstable Umbrella Centre – meals on wheels for the vulnerable
Salvation Army – food parcels for the vulnerable
St Mary Bredin – food parcels for families
We would like to thank everyone who has donated food to us in the past six weeks. To mention but a few: we have received regular donations of fresh fruit and vegetables from Waitrose; large amounts of potatoes from Thanet Earth and Lord John Yarrow -delivered by Sweets from Evan in Whitstable: MaskerAID have donated some of their homemade masks to us. Two restaurants, The Ambrette in Canterbury and Salma in Wingham have very kindly cooked evening meals for the occupants of the Travelodge.
Fairly soon into the Lockdown we started getting requests from clients who had accessed our arts and crafts sessions. They asked if we could provide activities to relieve the boredom of self-isolation and distract them from the difficult situation they find themselves in. Arts and Crafts Coordinator, Miriam Ellis with the help of local artists Charlotte Chapman, Zo Defferary, C.A. Halpin and Holly Swain, created some simple art activities that could be delivered to the homeless. There was a great response to this and some interesting work created.
Miriam has now refined this approach, calling it Art in a Box. This is an activity that fits into a small takeaway box, which can then be delivered by our staff, to homeless people in self-isolation during the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown. The first box was delivered last week: a postcard-size art competition containing everything needed for three entries, with prizes available. We are seeking funding to widen out this project, enabling a number of local artists to come up with a range of these activities in the coming months.
Even if large-scale resources are made available to the homeless post-lockdown, it is likely to be an incredibly difficult period of transition. We at Catching Lives anticipate having to adapt the way we support the homeless and being ready for that when the time comes. For example, we will almost certainly still have to observe social distancing to some extent, so we may have to provide more outreach services, and serve food both inside the centre and via the side hatch. We will have to consider how to run our art activities in a safe way.
Even in the best of times, Catching Lives needs the ongoing support of our broader community, but right now – and even when we come out of this, the community will play a huge part in helping us to provide this much needed service to the most unfortunate amongst us.
THANK YOU TO ALL OF YOU WHO ARE HELPING US TO SUPPORT THE HOMELESS