A message from our Chief Executive

Responding to the current health crisis

I am writing to update you on how the Cardinal Hume Centre is responding to the extraordinary health crisis.  We are working in ways we would not have imagined a few weeks ago but I am extremely proud to say we are continuing to offer a critical and frontline service.

The evidence increasingly suggests that it is our clients, and people like them who will bear more than their fair share of the economic consequences of Covid-19 and often because of their housing situation face a greater health risk. 

In Westminster, a borough with some of the highest rates of homelessness and where more than a third of children live in poverty it is right that we continue to work  to support families and young people as they feel the strains of homelessness, unemployment, social distancing and confinement in sometimes appalling overcrowded or poorly maintained accommodation.

We most often hear from families that access to food is their greatest cause of anxiety.  Thanks to the generosity of donors to our crisis food appeal we are able to provide supermarket vouchers and access to our emergency food bank. In the first month of the lockdown we helped more than 200 individuals or families.

Our advice services have remained and will remain open.  Staff and volunteers are working hard to help old and new clients whether in 1-1virtual meetings or in person while maintaining a safe social distance.  We were conscious that not everyone has easy access to the internet, so we have kept our reception open on reduced hours as a safety net.  In the first month, we provided advice to 220 people either online or in person, among them a family fleeing domestic abuse, a homeless expectant mother who is currently sofa surfing as well as a mother struggling to secure long overdue funding for her severely disabled child.  All fraught enough problems to tackle, without the additional strain of Covid-19.

 

Our employment specialists provide telephone advice to people who have been laid off and are confused by the benefits system. I am told by the team, that the complexity of need means that these and other advice sessions can take three times longer than when we can work face to face.

 

 

We continue to provide a home to the 36 young people who live at the Centre;  staff from across the team have stepped into to ensure 24 hour cover, seven days a week, letting residents know they are being supported, and can get help in a time of crisis.

Like everyone, sometimes our residents have been anxious, so our team continue to do an amazing job to try and keep spirits up and to reassure them.  This has included activities such as yoga, basketball, table tennis, quizzes and caring for our small but well-loved garden.  Gail, our life skills worker is running small cookery and baking classes twice a week and the emergency food bank is also available to help young people cook for themselves.

 

With families we have moved to an outreach model: rather than waiting for those who might be vulnerable to contact us, we have been getting in touch with them.  Gaia, our family services manager, is phoning to check how families are coping.  Many have said they are too scared to go out and are genuinely pleased to receive our reassuring phone calls as they have described difficulties getting everyday essentials including nappies.  During the calls we can discuss with parents whether their children can access their schoolwork online and offer advice about organisations offering support with laptops and data.

Some of the most vulnerable children are those in families where the parents have no rights to access public support with living or housing costs.  Our immigration team is continuing to provide legal advice over the phone and sometimes in person in order to sign or process urgent paperwork.  A particular focus has been those where Leave to Remain is about to come to an end and who need help with renewal to ensure they keep their rights to work and reside in the UK.  We are also helping those who have lost their jobs because of the crisis but have no recourse to public funds: 26 immigration clients – nearly all with children – have been given supermarket vouchers.

The shifts in working practice has involved changes for us all,  but the Centre has and will remain open 24 hours a day.  It is perhaps not a heroism that matches the efforts of those working for the NHS in critical care, but it is a vital part of keeping society going and protecting some very vulnerable lives.

I do not want to under-estimate the difficulties that people face, but I am proud of what we achieved in the first weeks of this crisis. The fact that we have been able to respond is thanks to the commitment and support of many.  If you have been part of this, I would like to thank you, it is a team effort.

Now, we can begin to begin to plan for an uncertain future. Sadly, it feels the problems for many may not have really started. The consequences of the virus will discriminate against those who are living on the margins of society.  We will need to be flexible in our response and will have to focus our efforts where we feel we can make the greatest difference to the lives of children, their families and young people.  Our aim is to ensure the combination of poverty, poor housing and the expected economic downturn does not rob the potential found in young lives.  That people can continue to plan for a future and thrive.

I hope, whatever your role or link to the Centre, you will stick with us.  We will need your help.

With best wishes,

George O’Neill
Chief Executive