Why safe homes are at the heart of supporting people through a crisis

Abigail Ampofo, 26 August 2020

Hestia is a crisis charity, supporting adults and children to a life beyond crisis in London and the South East. In 2019, we supported almost 11,000 individuals and families across our wide range of services. This includes victims of domestic abuse, those who have experienced modern slavery and people who are facing challenges with their mental health.

Coronavirus has been an incredible challenge for all of us, but for people already living with profound trauma it’s been even harder.  The crisis has prolonged recovery and forced them into a distressing state of uncertainty.

Through all this, we’ve seen more clearly than ever how a safe home is imperative to recovery. Alongside our outreach support, floating support and day centres, much of our work revolves around ensuring secure accommodation for those who need it.

The severe impact of coronavirus on our service users has had a ripple effect on our staff members and volunteers. We have endured new challenges in abundance, but we have responded quickly and proactively. I’m proud to say that the coronavirus crisis has not prevented us from providing support to a single one of our service users.

As lockdown began, there were warranted concerns about how it would affect people living with an abusive partner. As one of the largest providers of domestic abuse support in London, we knew that our swift response would be vital.

Demand for our domestic abuse support, including our refuge accommodation, rose by 30% during lockdown. We supported women fleeing their homes while nine months pregnant. We saw women who had lost their jobs, the only respite from their partner’s abuse, come to us in desperation as the abuse had escalated so dramatically during lockdown.

In response, we opened Britain’s first emergency refuge accommodation for women and their children fleeing during the pandemic. Within days, the beds were full. We have since opened a second.

Even once the women and their children arrived at a refuge, the lockdown period was excruciatingly tough for them. My colleague Tamara, an Area Manager for Hestia’s domestic abuse services, said it best: how do you explain to a young, traumatised child that you can’t hug or play with them anymore?

Our children and family workers, who support children in refuges, have shone through with innovation and creativity in supporting the families as best as possible. They have used FaceTime and Zoom calls to help children complete their homework, or to talk them through exercises to do in the garden. Our corporate partners and supporters have gone above and beyond to help too – we managed to secure tablets so children could complete their school work, and subscriptions to streaming services to alleviate boredom. The women in the refuges have cooked for other residents if they had to self-isolate.

The number of volunteers Hestia has worked with has increased significantly during the crisis too. This year we have already worked with almost 1,000 volunteers. From delivering food drops and other essentials to people isolating within our services, to joining our frontline teams to provide in-accommodation support, the dedication brought by our volunteers has driven us through this pandemic.

The coronavirus crisis has temporarily changed the way we deliver the majority of our services. Support workers who may have visited a service user at their accommodation have instead carried out consistent well-being checks over the phone. Resident community groups have been assisted to move their meetings online.

Through this, our staff, service users, supporters and volunteers have worked hard to build a sense of togetherness as they remained apart.

All of these adaptions and challenges have taken perseverance and creativity to overcome. But to see just how quickly and effectively we can act and adapt when we band together with one clear goal – to ensure a life beyond this crisis – has been incredible.