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08th Apr 2020

‘It’s isolating being homeless to begin with’: Homeless charity adjusts counselling services during #Covid-19 outbreak

“Self isolation has distanced us even more from the people using these services.”

The coronavirus outbreak has impacted virtually every charity operating in Ireland. Funding, events, and services have been affected across the board, leaving the vulnerable more vulnerable and many increasingly uncertain about their futures.

The homeless community has been hit particularly hard by the outbreak as thousands have been left feeling increasingly anxious about when the pandemic will end – and what it means for them in the meantime.

Staff at Dublin’s Simon Community have been working round the clock to ensure that they can continue to provide the vital services needed to support the community during this trying time.

One of the most important facets of the charity is their Sure Steps counselling sessions – a free service that provides one-on-one counselling for people who have experienced trauma and are homeless or at risk of being homeless.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, clients availing of the programme came to counsellors with issues of addiction, depression, self harm, and suicidal ideation.

Now those issues remain, but they have been heightened by the coronavirus outbreak and the uncertainty that has come with it.

Andrea Koenigstorfer is the Dublin Simon Community’s counselling coordinator. She says that while some clients are disappointed about treatment programme delays, the majority are struggling with the break in day-to-day structure.

“It’s isolating being homeless to begin with,” she says. “Usually, we would make sure that a client has a routine, so we’ll get them to go a class, to choir, or to an addiction day service programme. But all of these have stopped or been altered in some way, so that routine is missing.

“You and I are trying to adjust to working from home, but a homeless person’s sense of isolation and lack of control is even higher. Their distractions are all gone. That’s what they’ve been bringing up [in sessions] most.”

The Dublin Simon Community’s shift in service operations means that some clients will now be taking calls in hostels, where they often struggle with privacy. They’ll also be spending the majority of their day there too.

Andrea says that hostel staff have been incredibly accommodating for clients who need space to engage in a session. The new service is working, she says, but both clients and counsellors are still adapting.

“We are finding some of it challenging,” she says. “[But] we are seeing clients who already have accounts continuing to link in with us.

“Normally counselling would take place once a week, but now they’re adapting the sessions to suit themselves. So instead of travelling to meet someone for a session, they might prefer if you’re checking in twice a week over the phone.

“It’s working quite well for us. We’re visiting counsellors so we would have been losing time to travel before. Now we’ve gained that time.”

As well as switching their counselling services to online or over the phone, the Sure Steps programme and the charity’s Client Development Team have also been working on sending out activity packs to clients across Dublin.

The packs, which are also available to download, include a mindful activity, relaxation techniques, word searches, exercise routines, and other mental health activities.

The packs are sent out every day in a bid to reinstate the structure that has been lost by Covid-19. Furthermore, the charity’s suicide prevention hotline is still operating seven days a week for all members of the community.

Andrea says that there hasn’t been as many crisis calls as usual, but that she is hopeful more people will avail of the service once they know that it is still there.

She is also hopeful that the general public will continue to keep the homeless community in mind during the coronavirus pandemic.

“There was huge visibility before the virus hit because of the increasing numbers and the amount of people sleeping rough,” she says.

“Now we’re all confined to our houses and we’ve got our own issues to deal with. Self isolation has distanced us even more from the people using these services.”

Andrea says that although fundraising is always important for charities like Dublin Simon Community, not forgetting about the homeless community is crucial too. It’s the little things that make the difference.

“I know of one child who’s gathering some Easter eggs for a homeless service this Sunday,” she says.

“And that’s not donating money, that’s just being thoughtful.”

The Dublin Simon Community’s development activity pack can be accessed here.