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A homeless man on the streets of London

Kingston: Health & Wellbeing day for the homeless and asylum seekers

Kingston along with with NHS South West London CCG, Public Health, Healthwatch, and other partners, is hosting a health and wellbeing day on 15 March.

SPEAR London will also support the day by providing a range of events to help those who need it most.

SPEAR is a charity for people experiencing homelessness in south west London.

It helps them, and those seeking asylum, to gain access to services that they would not be able to normally.

Many of society’s marginalised lack the knowledge of, or the access to the technology required to use services.

The digitalisation of society as well as these services, has not helped. 

Since the start of the pandemic, GP appointments, benefits claims and many other services have become online-based, leaving many of those who need them without access.

SPEAR’s Homeless Health Link Team Leader Giuseppina Donadio, Homeless Health Link Worker Arturo Kerbel Shein, and Fundraising Officer Rebecca Pitt all convey the negative effects of the digitalisation of society on the homeless.

Donadio said: “Very few people in our cohort of clients have access to computers, so people that needed prescription, for example, couldn’t get one.

“We did all this work of changing the prescription and the way it was delivered.

“We arranged for clients to get food or prescription for their medication delivered to their doorsteps.

“And we bought the phones for the majority of our clients during the pandemic as well, to make sure that they could ring 999 if they needed help.”

Pitt added: “The digital exclusion of those who are rough sleeping, and homeless as well, is evident.

“We have access to pretty much everything at our fingertips – access to GPs for example, is now all online or by phone calls.

“But these people don’t necessarily have access to a phone or a smartphone, don’t have money to pay for credit, or access to a laptop or a webcam so the GP can see what issues that they’ve got.”

For Donadio, the importance of these types of events cannot be stressed enough.

She said: “Events like this are really important for the community, especially for the cohort of people that are most destitute.

“We’ve been doing these things before COVID, for a cohort of clients such as homeless people, not only for health and wellbeing but also to equalise inequality in health.

“Our clients also feel very institutionalised quite often, they just don’t trust the system. 

“So we need to unite people, to work together, to eradicate the problem of homelessness, and people being ill because they are not treated as equal.”

SPEAR aims to remove the feeling of helplessness that many in the situation face every day, as many are left feeling more like a number than a human being.

These kinds of events allow those in need to see the human behind the process and feel as though they are truly getting the help they need.

While the event details were posted on Twitter, many of those who need it wouldn’t have access to it.

Thankfully SPEAR knows how to avoid this problem.

Donadio said: “We know who lives on the streets because we have an outreach team of colleagues that go out there in the night and early morning.

“So this is one way – they will distribute flyers when they go and check on clients.”

For Kerbel Shein, these events are more than just helping those in need.

He said: “We want people to be there not only because they need something, you don’t have to need something to be there, you don’t have to need to talk to the benefits people or need to get food or our barber.

“Our goal is to build a community.

“We want a social atmosphere and environment where people can be like anyone else – get some coffee and talk to some people even if they don’t need to see the nurse or us – they just come to hang out.”

SPEAR also goes out of its way to make the lives of its clients easier, by buying a blood pressure machine, bike parts, or headphones to engage with computers better.

The pandemic has been devastating in many ways, and the effect on people’s finances as well as mental health has left many in precarious situations.

Donadio said: “Nobody wants to be on the streets. Have you ever met somebody that wants to be on the streets?

“They’re there for some specific reason. Do you know why?

“Because of trauma, relationship breakdown, financial breakdown. There are so many reasons why people end up on the street.”

Hoping to continue to use SPEAR’s multi-lingual staff, Donadio has said there are plans in place for events like the one in Kingston.

She said: “We operate in Sutton, Wandsworth, Kingston and Richmond.

“I think we want to make these events as a regular occurrence in different boroughs for a start because different boroughs attract different cohorts of clients.

“There are a few in planning, like this one in Kingston, then the Wandsworth one, the Sutton one, which we already organised, but the venue wasn’t good, so we’re changing it.

“I’m just waiting for this funding – as soon as we have it, events will go ahead, and then I’m able to plan a lot more than I have at the moment.”

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