“We are working to ensure that there is ‘No Going Back’ to the streets for people brought in during the pandemic…”

A Triton in the UK helps fight homelessness from her bedroom.

I work as a fundraiser in the United Kingdom for the homeless charity, St Mungo’s, where we had been planning to safeguard our beneficiaries and staff against coronavirus since we first heard about it in February. When news of the UK-wide lockdown came in mid-March, it completely honestly it took me really by surprise.

From a UC Alumni perspective, where I serve as president of the UK Alumni Board, we had been working towards our annual fundraising gala to support UC student scholarships to study abroad—sponsors were confirmed, the tickets almost fully sold. Overnight we had to make the decision to cancel it, refund all tickets and also put a ban on all other in-person alumni events for the foreseeable future.

Naively I thought things would be very quiet in my job, volunteering, and definitely my social life during lockdown, as I left London to move back in with my parents in Southampton.  How wrong I was (well apart from the quiet social life!).

On the first Sunday back with my parents I embarked on what has become one of my favourite lockdown rituals, taking my dog for a run (actually it’s the usually other way around). When I returned I saw I had several missed calls from colleagues. I returned them and learned that over the weekend our outreach teams (the heroes who go out morning and night to help people sleeping on the streets and connect them with support services) had started bringing in rough sleepers off the streets and from emergency communal shelters into hotels (which couldn’t operate as normal because of the lockdown restrictions) where they could self-isolate in safety.  They were calling to see if my team and I could help source emergency supplies, crucially food, through our corporate partnership connections.

It was a Sunday morning and most food outlets had closed due to the lockdown rules. We started making phone calls and social media call outs and couldn’t believe how responsive businesses, particularly senior representatives from them, were. They really wanted to help us support vulnerable people in this crisis despite facing their own challenges. This generous reaction was just a taste of things to come.

Over the coming weeks my frontline colleagues worked around the clock to support bringing over1,600 people off the streets. Once safely inside, they have then supported these vulnerable people with their critical needs, health & wellbeing and next steps including employment and accommodation.  Alongside all this, the charity has also had to ensure that the 3,000 vulnerable people we care for a night, as well as staff in our regular accommodation services, are kept safe.

This incredible emergency response to the pandemic has provided really interesting opportunities to partner with businesses.  We have secured technology to reduce the isolation and improve the digital inclusion of people in our services. We have set up a food bank to ensure those who have had to shield and self-isolate during lockdown have had regular access to food. And we are now working with companies to identify ways they can help with accommodation and employment opportunities for those currently in the hotels to ensure they don’t return to the streets.

The majority of the team has done this whilst working out of our bedrooms (myself included), kitchens, and living rooms. We have conducted important meetings with partners from warehouses, inside vans, and whilst our dog is barking at the top of their lungs.

I am really missing the office, the chats over the coffee pot, and the buzz of a big fundraising event. But what has been achieved over the past few months by working in a very dynamic and strategic way with colleagues across the organization (several of whom I haven’t actually met in person) and businesses have surprised me and taught me a lot of great things that I want to continue, even when we are back to a more normal way of working.

Likewise the UC Alumni Board and Community have really stepped up to the mark during the pandemic. Despite not being able to hold any face to face events, the community has delivered a series of virtual activities, from happy hours, to fundraising quizzes to a Q&A with an alum who hiked the PCT Trail. The ability for anyone to join from wherever they are has brought UC alumni from across the UK, Europe and USA together.  The UCSD club is even currently preparing for a European Panel event with Triton Magazine at the end of the month!

The big question looming in everyone’s minds is What next? At St Mungo’s, the round-the-clock work is continuing as we are working out plans to ensure that there is No Going Back to the streets for people who have been brought in during the pandemic. Whilst coronavirus has undoubtedly brought a huge amount of pain and challenges, it has also created some unique opportunities as well.

To find out more about St Mungo’s visit – https://www.mungos.org/homelessness/how-to-help-during-coronavirus/

To find out more about the UC Alumni UK Board visit – https://london.universityofcalifornia.edu/