Photography by Samantha Toolsie for Simon on the Streets

Lifeline homelessness charity supported by £50k fundraiser after tough year

Earlier in the year, the United Nations described the shocking increase in domestic abuse as a ‘shadow pandemic’ to Coronavirus. In the UK alone, more than 40,000 calls were made to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline during the first three months of lockdown. The current restrictions on movement mean many vulnerable people are trapped indoors with their abusers. For some, fleeing home with no plan and nowhere to go is, devastatingly, the only option.

The impact of increased domestic abuse has had a knock-on effect and West Yorkshire homelessness charity, Simon on the Streets which provides outreach support to rough sleepers and vulnerable people has seen an increase in people taking to the streets when fleeing domestic abuse. The charity has supported 65 individuals who have experienced domestic abuse this year, across Leeds, Bradford and Kirklees.

Abi (real name not used) left her hometown, friends and family with nothing but the clothes on her back when she made the decision to escape domestic abuse in August. Her ex-partner had control of her finances, so arriving in a new city completely alone with no money, she undertook survival sex in order to secure a bed for the night.

After making acquaintances, she was sometimes able to stay on other people’s floors or sofas, but the places she stayed were often small and overcrowded and lacked any privacy. When Simon on the Streets found her, she described her experience as ‘soul destroying’.

Sadly, after providing two nights in a B&B, the charity lost contact with Abi whilst trying to secure emergency accommodation for her.

Sarah, an Outreach Worker at Simon on the Streets described her encounter with Abi:

“Abi had no local connection to the area, which unfortunately made her ineligible for housing support. For those with no local connection to an area, the main goal is to reconnect them to their hometown.

“In this case that would have been detrimental to Abi’s safety. Abi was terrified she would be made to return and unfortunately was pushed underground and is now part of a hidden homeless population. We remain hopeful we will find her again. The no local connection rule both excludes and discriminates against very vulnerable people.”

Sarah continues:

“Domestic abuse has risen during COVID-19 as social distancing measures isolate vulnerable groups further. They are unable to tap in to support networks and resources. They also have less contact with family and friends.”

Steve found himself sleeping in his car in an unfamiliar city when he escaped his violent partner. Sofa-surfing was no longer an option when the threat of Coronavirus hit in March and even friends started to turn him away, worried about the virus. This meant he was no longer able to continue working.

When an outreach worker visited him in September after being informed of his situation, they were able to source emergency accommodation under Covid-19 funding as part of the Government’s ‘everyone in’ scheme.

Within a week, Simon on the Streets helped him into supported accommodation where he was grateful for basic essentials such as a hot shower. They also made plans with his GP and a local mental health organisation to support Steve with his mental health.

Tracey, Outreach Worker at Simon on the Streets commented:

“The pandemic has shown that homelessness is not just about rough sleepers we see on the streets. We have encountered people who are working, have lost their jobs or homes and cannot stay with family, as well as people who have been sofa surfing.

“Many have not known who to turn to in a crisis as many services have shut or switched to phone-only support. Simon on the Streets has been on the frontline throughout the pandemic offering help and support to anyone and everyone as we have been one of the few services still out there.”

The charity has provided nothing short of a lifeline for vulnerable people who simply could not stay at home with their abusive partners during lockdown. Regardless of this, like many not-for-profit organisations across the country, the impact of the pandemic saw its fundraising streams reduce.

However, there is hope in the form of communities coming together across major cities in the UK – to help tackle the problem. In Leeds, the printing company Awesome Merchandise has launched a campaign to raise £50k to support Simon on the Streets, after hearing about the vital work the charity is doing to keep vulnerable people in the city safe.

To hit the target, Awesome Merchandise is introducing a number of initiatives in the run up to Christmas, including the launch of a dedicated online shop with a specially designed merchandise range – with all proceeds going to Simon on the Streets. In addition, Awesome Merchandise will donate 10% of profits from any of its products sold throughout December.

Luke Hodson, Founder of Awesome Merchandise commented:

“Supporting the local community lies at the heart of what we do and Simon on the Streets does some incredible work to help homeless and vulnerable people in the city and so we wanted to show our utmost support for them, and in turn, the people who are living on the streets in Leeds.

Natalie Moran, CEO at Simon on the Streets commented:

“Simon on the Streets is an independent charity whose income relies solely upon the incredible generosity of our corporate partners and community fundraisers, all of whom have been impacted by the pandemic.

“Since March, we have had 4,900 instances of providing support to people, including 369 involving helping people access temporary accommodation. We’ve accompanied our clients to access services such as drug and alcohol services, mental health support, GPs and benefits, 4,500 times.

“The pandemic has meant that we’ve had to cancel the majority of our events this year, which has severely impacted the work we do. We could not be more grateful to Awesome Merchandise for thinking of us at this time.”

To help Awesome Merchandise reach its £50k target, visit the Keep Leeds Warm online shop.