Drink and Drugs News DDN June 2020 | Page 17

PRACTICE ALL IN IT TOGETHER The lockdown is reinforcing the power of partnership, collaboration and innovation, says Helen Thompson The coronavirus pandemic has caused massive social upheaval but communities across the country have joined forces, stepping up to volunteer, organise, and strategise how to help those who need it most. During these times of fear and uncertainty, the very best elements of human nature have prevailed, demonstrating the power of displaying care and kindness to those less fortunate. My role at Change Grow Live is all about communities, groups and people – I’m a connecting communities regional lead and I support services sitting within Yorkshire, Humberside, the North East and Scotland to create a range of innovative and creative opportunities for those who access our services – expanding experiences, networks and long-term connections to support healthier lifestyles. If people, ask what I do my response is I try to make recovery fun! No two days are the same – one day I could be running a ‘human library’, the next day I could be organising a pride float, an art exhibition or supporting someone to share their story on a video or podcast with a view to inspire others. I’m so lucky to do the job I do, but since the outbreak my role has fundamentally changed. I’ve been drafted in to support teams who are helping those who are considered most vulnerable, adapting to meet the needs of individuals and services. My first stop was with the street outreach team in Leeds. The closure or reduced hours of soup kitchens, food banks, drop-in centres and feeding services – as well as the limits on movement – were having a huge impact, as was the need to support those who were rough sleeping into temporary accommodation. The closures of cafes, shopping centres and restaurants meant limited opportunities for people to wash their hands, nor were they in a position to be involved in the panic buying of hand-sanitising gels or pain relief. Many street groups stopped coordinating activities and we were strongly encouraged to provide outreach in pairs, keeping a two-metre distance apart at all times – difficult when providing sometimes essential interventions for people across the city. Each day, seven days per week, we were out on the streets alongside housing workers, mental and physical health workers, complex case workers, volunteers and others. Healthcare checks were provided and naloxone given out where necessary, as well as housing advice, COVID-19 leaflets, hand sanitiser, wet wipes, clean clothes and food packs and drinks two to three times per day. Part of my role was to look at how we could increase provision of food supplies and hygiene products with limited budgets and an ongoing need. It was our intention that if we could show additional care and compassion to those in the hotels by involving the wider community this would encourage people to stay inside until it is safer to leave. We sourced hygiene packs with support from the local community and through fundraising – items such as toothpaste, shampoos and soaps were purchased and given out, as were cleaning products to help people be proud of their surroundings. We provided snack bags to the hotels where people are staying with the support of the local food aid network, while local cafes and businesses that were closing during lockdown shared the contents of their fridges and shelves with local soup kitchens. The positive relationships between partners at all levels meant that the homeless community received the best service possible – there have been many positive success stories, with some residents who are entrenched rough sleepers engaging with services for the first time or after a long break. Partnership working and collaboration were no longer aspirational goals – they were a necessity. Over 120 people were ‘Since the outbreak my role has fundamentally changed. I’ve been drafted in to support teams who are helping those who are considered most vulnerable, adapting to meet the needs of individuals and services.’ safeguarded from the streets, supported into hotels, hostels and temporary accommodation and provided with the best possible holistic support. We were trying to keep our best faces on – the brave face, the happy face, the supportive face, just trying to keep everybody’s morale up. To support in this endeavour, I took my dog Pablo Escobark with me to work – everyone came to recognise him as a support dog and the smiling faces followed. He even received a virtual award in the city as a virtual hero! Helen Thompson is connecting communities regional lead at Change Grow Live Illustration: sv_sunny/iStock WWW.DRINKANDDRUGSNEWS.COM JUNE 2020 • DRINK AND DRUGS NEWS • 17