Original article from Kent Live
The success of our pandemic response has been judged on many different factors.
From the reopening of shops, pubs, and restaurants, to the rollout of the vaccine and the easing of lockdown restrictions, we seem to be edging closer towards normality.
However, there are certain impacts of the pandemic that have often gone forgotten.
Homelessness, housing insecurity and food insecurity were a major factor early in the pandemic, as many worried about paying rent whilst on wages furloughed at 80 per cent, but have since somewhat fallen off the radar.
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Porchlight is one of a handful of charities operating in Kent, attempting to combat housing and food insecurity, and unsurprisingly they have faced a challenging year during the pandemic.
Porchlight offers a range of services, from offering a helpline to helping people find secure accommodation, even through to mental health advice.
Calls to porchlight's helpline rose significantly during the pandemic – hitting 33,678 in the last 12 months compared to 27,447 in 2018/19.
This rise equates to an increase of 22.7 per cent on the pre-pandemic period, which in itself is a substantial indicator of just how the pandemic impacted vulnerable communities.
Speaking to Porchlight's Communications and PR officer, Chris Thomas, the issue of homelessness in Kent goes beyond the statistics – and not all of it is doom and gloom.
"The last year obviously has been quite difficult for charities like Porchlight, but we've achieved a lot.
"We've been working with councils and other organisations to help people who are homeless, and make sure that they've been safe as the pandemic has gone on.
"And we've been doing a lot of work with people who have their own homes, but obviously, the lockdown and the economic and emotional impacts of COVID are taking a toll on their mental health."
When asked how the pandemic has impacted Kent in the big picture, Chris was frank: "There's good news and bad news.
"Obviously, when the pandemic started, we worked with councils and other organisations and we were able to bring almost all of the people who were rough sleeping into hotels and B&Bs."
"We've been working with them since then to get them into Porchlight properties where they can live for a longer period and recover, and that's been going really well.
"So, in one sense, the pandemic kind of facilitated this group work that's really been able to help people who are homeless."
However, the societal impact of the pandemic is far from over, and there are worries that the lift on eviction bans coming in later this month will throw many back into insecure situations.
"We think there are thousands of households across Kent that are really struggling to pay the bills to pay the rent, and they're in a really precarious position.
"Some might have been given an eviction notice, and when the eviction ban is lifted, we are quite worried that unless the government intervenes or put some extra help in place, we could see a lot of people being made homeless."
This isn't just restricted to housing either, as Chris explained the pressure on food banks.
"I believe our helpline has received a lot of calls from people who are struggling financially, some of them they've never had to kind of claim assistance in their life before, say, they need kind of help do knowing what to do."
These issues won't end with the pandemic either – as with four million people currently furloughed, and a rise in unemployment during the pandemic, many of those close to or below the poverty line will be the hardest hit by the growing pains of recovery.
This isn't an issue Porchlight can solve alone, Chris admits.
"The government still needs to look at the long-term picture.
"You know, the causes of homelessness, essentially, the deprivation, if people are going through hardship, they're more likely to suffer with their mental health, they're more likely to become homeless, we know this."
"The government really needs to invest in things that are going to begin to stop people being in this position in the first place.
"It also needs to build affordable homes, homes that anyone in the southeast can actually afford to buy."