“My first reaction to the crisis was similar to the many staff who, like me, have young children at home whose school was being closed, and how we would manage our work-life commitments. 

Thankfully, the majority of our projects within the Communities directorate were able to remain mostly operational. For example, the four Extern hostels (Innis, Dismas, Ormeau Centre and MUST) were all still operating at full capacity and continued to take new referrals as required. The introduction of the internal relief bank staff process, increasing the external bank staff pool and adding to the agency resource for staffing all helped immeasurably.  The staff have all put in an outstanding effort to respond to the crisis.

The teams based at our Royal Avenue hub, in Belfast, have also pulled together brilliantly to ensure that we have been able to provide a service to those who are on the streets, or facing homelessness,

I know there have been many challenges, as the staff were working with new issues that they had not faced before, but they remained resourceful and solution-focused. For example, where face-to-face contact was required, staff put the appropriate controls in place, such as ‘1-in-1-out’ systems, Perspex screens, handwashing, PPE, social distancing measures, educational signage and working with our service users to guide them on the measures needed to keep us all safe.

The Floating Support teams continued to support their service users by working remotely while also delivering food parcels.

The Extern Works and Positive Learning projects also quickly adapted their training platforms to continue their learning digitally with service users, while the transport staff have been providing supportive services within the community, for example delivering PPE, food parcels and donated food to our hostels and other organisations.  

The use of the ‘Microsoft Teams’ software has been good, as it ensured that we’ve all been able to  meet with team-mates. In times like these, it is crucial to keep in touch and support each other, and I know managers were especially mindful of those staff members who live alone. I hope that some working relationships will be stronger as we come out of this pandemic together, and more supportive of each other.  

I am so proud of the dedication shown by the Extern staff. Not only have they had to work in very challenging times and demanding situations, they have also had to adapt to life changes at home too. Managers have given excellent leadership, guidance and support to their staff to assist in the adaption of services as we continue to move through these ever-changing circumstances.

The frontline staff in our hostels and delivering homeless services are working with some of the most vulnerable and high risk people, and deserve the recognition for the commitment and professionalism that they continue to display on a daily basis in the midst of a time of heightened fear and anxiety. All staff have been doing an outstanding job and I thank them all.”