Homeless day centre The Barons Court Project has implemented a digital support network for its clients throughout the pandemic, after being forced to close its doors in March.
The charity, which has been running since 1985, is the only drop-in centre in the borough for people who are homeless or living with severe mental health conditions. Services include practical support such as laundry, showers and phone charging, as well as learning and wellbeing activities including arts, crafts, cooking and IT classes. Though these have been temporarily suspended, the organisation has given phones to its vulnerable clients in order to maintain contact and support.
“We were seeing around 60 people a day,” says director Michael Angus. “A lot of these people are homeless, but we also see a number of people with severe mental health conditions. Although they rely on practical support, many of these people have no friends and family. We are their family and their only real support system.”
When many of their guests were moved into hotels at the start of the pandemic, there were numerous logistical challenges. “The hotels in Hammersmith and Fulham provided food, but not all the hotels across the city did. I had a call from one client who’d been surviving for a week on the biscuits they left in the room. We immediately brought him food. But there were other challenges with lack of access to cooking facilities and fridges.”
For people struggling with homelessness and mental health conditions, the biggest challenge was the sudden isolation from the world. “Around 70% of our guests can use the internet, but most do not have access to computers or tablets outside of day centres.” For those who couldn’t use the internet at all, phones were purchased so that the charity’s staff could call them regularly. “We have also provided tablets and laptops where we can, but we are seeking further donations.” They’ve also set up virtual meet-ups for those who have access to technology and a printed wellbeing pack with games, puzzles and other information for those who don’t.
The centre is reviewing its current services and will be putting safety precautions in place. “We hope to reopen our doors as soon as we can. We’re working with the council to try and ensure that people can move to long-term accommodation rather than be forced to return to the streets.”
If you have any old laptops, phones, tablets or other devices you are no longer using, the Barons Court Project is currently accepting donations. While they are unable to accept used clothing for health and safety reasons, you can donate new socks, t-shirts and underwear. Please contact 0207 603 5232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are homeless or struggling with your mental health and need support, you can use the same number and email to get in touch.