Northern Soul and People’s Powerhouse are continuing our partnership to share good news stories about businesses, people and communities coming together in the North of England during the COVID-19 crisis.
This week, we chat to Emma Mulholland, communications coordinator at Justlife, a charity which prevents those living in temporary accommodation in Manchester and Brighton from falling into rough sleeping by addressing their health, housing and wellbeing needs, alongside research and policy work to identify long-term solutions to homelessness.
Northern Soul: Can you tell us a little bit about Justlife?
Emma Mulholland: Justlife is a Manchester and Brighton-based homeless charity who help those closest to the streets take steps away from homelessness towards independent living. Working primarily with those placed in temporary accommodation, Justlife supports people who slip through the cracks of England’s housing system, and often face homelessness alone. We do this through one-to-one key work to help them address their health, housing and wellbeing needs, alongside research and policy work to influence structural change.
NS: What has the response to your Christmas project been like?
EM: This winter, against a backdrop of unemployment and a surge in temporary accommodation placements on top of the usual challenges, the need for our services has dramatically increased. Our supporters understand this need and we’ve been lucky to receive funding from various trusts and charitable organisations to meet this rise in demand head on.
Our Christmas matched fundraising campaign has been warmly received by our supporters including Chris Riddell, the UK’s Children’s Laureate, who drew over 80 dragons during a 12-hour draw-a-thon to fundraise for us. Every drawing sold within five minutes of being online.
NS: What challenges have you faced during the COVID-19 pandemic?
EM: Our main challenge was figuring out how to continue to support people in the safest way. Before the pandemic, our aim was to help people overcome the barriers that prevented them from moving into more settled housing. Now, our focus is on supporting people to live in temporary accommodation in the safest and healthiest way. This involves weekly deliveries of around 300 meals a week (over 10,000 since March, 2020), wellbeing packs (games, arts and crafts materials, books, puzzles and radios), and providing free tablet devices, so that clients can stay connected to family, friends and services.
EM: Sadly, most of the issues facing the hidden homeless community existed long before pandemic. Feelings of loneliness and isolation are common. Many live alone in small rooms with no communal spaces, no visitors allowed and no support staff around to help. Losing their homes already takes a huge toll on their mental health, but the lack of control over their living situation that follows only worsens people’s overall wellbeing. There’s also a logistical problem to accessing support services and since almost everything has moved online, those without devices and even Wi-Fi face a huge technological barrier.
NS: And how have they come together?
EM: The people Justlife supports are very strong and resilient. In spite of losing their homes and being let down by systems that are beyond their control, many have shown an unwavering commitment to supporting others. From establishing cleaning rotas, to doing their bit to help people living the rooms next to them when needed, our support workers aren’t the only ones who have stepped up for their communities.
NS: Have you been surprised by the reaction?
EM: One thing people in temporary accommodation told us was that COVID-19 hadn’t really affected their lives because they were already isolated and struggling. This was surprising, but it just highlights that for some people, life is hard all the time, not just in a pandemic.
EM: It means continuing to support people in the safest way, keeping up regular communication to ensure that their needs are being met and that any issues are resolved, checking in with their mental health, and doing what we can to prevent loneliness and isolation.
NS: How can people help/get involved?
EM: All donations to Justlife are matched, pound for pound, at no extra cost to supporters from December 1- 8, 2020 when made on The Big Give website. Donations fund our year-round support work to give people the best chance of moving away from homelessness.
Aside from giving, projects like Social Connection match volunteers with someone moving away from homelessness to help them adjust and settle in to. You can keep up to date with our work and volunteering opportunities on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
EM: April’s lockdown was a huge turning point for one of our clients who’d been battling addiction for a long time. Over 100 days, she detoxed herself from methadone and is now four months clean from crack, heroin and methadone. She now supports others by sharing her journey and is a real advocate for how people can make positive choices in the face of adverse situations. She’s a huge inspiration to us all.
NS: What does the ‘new normal’ mean to you?
EM: We’ve already adapted our services to meet people’s needs while maintaining safety and reducing the chances of infection. We expect to continue working this way for a while and we’re embracing technology to help us communicate with clients. Whatever happens, we’ll continue to support people and look for new ways to make a positive difference.
For more information, visit: justlife.org.uk.