The Upper Room used to feed around 60 – 80 people a day before the Coronavirus emergency, mainly homeless men.
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my whole career, to say ‘I can’t feed you any more,’ ” says Chief Executive Nicky Flynn.
The charity, based in Hammersmith, was advised at the beginning of the Coronavirus emergency by the Minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and also by Homeless Link, the umbrella organisation for charities working directly with homeless people, that they should stop attracting groups of people to come to them for food, to prevent transmission of the virus.
They now supports LB Hammersmith & Fulham, getting shelter for their clients in hotels and helping the the council’s outreach teams get food vouchers to those who are still on the street.
“We wanted to get them shelter inside, and we also support the food banks which deliver them food parcels”.
Image above: Chief Executive Nicky Flynn
Photograph above by Theresa Walton Photography
Whereas they used to help people get work by enabling them to take their driving lessons and take their test, and sit down one on one to help them fill out job applications or benefit forms, now they do everything over the phone. The Upper Room’s staff have six languages between them, so they are able to help with translation and they continue give benefits advice and counselling, but just not sitting across a table. They are able to help people prepare for their driving theory test, but just not the practical.
“About 50% our guys are rough sleepers, the rest either have a flat but can’t afford to eat because they spend all their money on rent or they’re staying in hostels or sofa surfing” Nicky tells me. Rough sleepers are particularly vulnerable to respiratory disease and although this is a huge generalisation, they also tend to be more temporarily unsuited to being cooped up, making them even more vulnerable to the disease. They’re a transient community.
It was tough enough for them to get a foot on the ladder before the Coronavirus emergency, but now there is a new wave of people looking for work. London is already seeing a surge of restaurant and pub workers forced to sleep on the streets because they can no longer afford to pay rent. While the government says it has housed 90% of those who were sleeping rough nationally by paying for hotel rooms, there are new huddles of tents and cardboard shelters springing up.
The Upper Upper Room has doubled its counselling service.
“We doing more PTSD and anxiety management. If you look at the PTSD reporting in China, it’s up 50%”
The Upper Room ‘Walk a Mile’ fundraising campaign
They are bracing themselves for more people who will be needing their services. They used to collect food, clothes and basic necessities such as toothpaste and shampoo, and will do that again when they reopen. For now they will continue to do what they can with the office closed to visitors, and it is money that they need rather than goods.
Donations can be a one-off contribution or an ongoing commitment. You can make a financial donation here. Tel: 0208 740 5688.
Take part in the ‘Walk a Mile’ for the Upper Room campaign – details here.