Published: 06:00, 10 October 2020
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic thousands of people have contacted a Kent homeless charity, as financial struggles and household tensions pushed people closer to the brink of losing their homes.
Porchlight's helpline is the only one of its kind in the county, with just five information and advice workers taking up to 100 calls a day from people who worry their personal situation could make them homeless.
One of those workers, Fern Reding, from Whitstable, started the job just a couple of months before the national lockdown in March.
Since then she has helped hundreds access support - from families struggling to find food to eat, to those who were forced to resort to sleeping on the streets.
One of the effects of the lockdown response to Covid-19 was a global rise in domestic abuse towards women.
The 35-year-old noticed an increase in domestic abuse-related calls to the helpline during this time.
She said: "During the lockdown period people were stuck indoors at home, their relationships were breaking down and people were feeling isolated.
"For anyone experiencing domestic abuse it's such a huge step of courage to just make a phone call and disclose what they're experiencing.
"The lockdown definitely made things so so much harder for a lot of people."
The UN referred to domestic violence as a 'shadow pandemic' alongside Covid-19, reporting that cases had risen in the UK and countries across the world.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women said: "Even before the pandemic, violence against women was one of the most widespread violations of human rights.
"Since lockdown restrictions, domestic violence has multiplied, spreading across the world in a shadow pandemic.
"The lockdown definitely made things so so much harder for a lot of people..."
"This is a critical time for action, from prioritising essential services like shelter and support for women survivors, to providing the economic support and stimulus packages needed for broader recovery."
Family tensions rose in many households across Kent, with no option to even sofa surf at a friend's or relative's house due to the isolation rules.
Fern said: "I had a call from a 19-year-old female who had been kicked out of her house by her mum, who was not in agreement in regards to her sexual preference.
"It was a hard call because the young lady was very upset - the relationship between her and her mum had completely broken down, her mum kicked her out and she was rough sleeping, and she was already suffering with mental health issues.
"You're taking away that last option, their last resort - sofa surfing is classed as being homeless, but a lot of people class that as their permanent residence. That's their way of life."
Financial stress is another factor in the age of coronavirus, stopping families from being able to afford rent and sometimes even food.
The helpline adviser said: "There's been so many calls where people have lost their job, they were furloughed, they've now been made redundant and they're facing eviction.
"We are all one step away from being homeless - a lot of people live month-to-month with their salary and don't have emergency savings when this happens
"It's evident a lot of people are at risk of becoming homeless if we have another full lockdown, definitely."
Today, on World Homeless Day, the charity is urging central government to consider greater support for people who are struggling financially due to the effects of the pandemic.
Up until September rental evictions had been banned by the government but that has since ended.
It is estimated up to 3,000 households in Kent are going to be affected by what Porchlight calls a mental health and housing emergency.
Chris Thomas, spokesperson for Porchlight, said: "If you're struggling with your mental health, it becomes harder to keep a roof over your head, so it's really important for the government to invest in services that help people keep a roof over their head or help them off the streets.
"They also need to put more measures in place to stop people being evicted, because this is a big issue and it's heading our way."
Homeless charity Crisis says there are around 170,000 people who are homeless in 21st Century Britain.
Jasmine Basran, policy manager at Crisis, said: "As we mark World Homelessness Day this year, we are faced with a very dangerous reality for those experiencing homelessness if the Government doesn’t take action.
"With the triple threat of coronavirus, serious financial pressures and the cold weather starting to bite, the situation is incredibly worrying and presents a huge risk of increased homelessness and danger to life for those sleeping on our streets.
"The government’s ‘Everyone In’ scheme from earlier in the year saw unprecedented efforts to protect people from the pandemic and undoubtedly saved lives – this must urgently be repeated.
"As we face a second wave of coronavirus, government must provide somewhere for each and every person sleeping on our streets to live and self-isolate safely."
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