Homeless charity in Leeds adapts to meet COVID-19 challenges
St George’s Crypt has been helping homeless and vulnerable people in Leeds for 90 years and it is not going to let COVID-19 deter it from that role.
The charity, which helps feed, house and rehabilitate people in need, is trying to maintain ‘business as usual’ as far as possible during the global health crisis.
It may no longer be able to serve a three-course sit-down meal to 120 people at its Great George Street base, but it now does a daily ‘collect and go’ service to feed the hungry.
An orderly food queue, maintaining social distancing, has been forming daily outside the crypt’s back door. Andrew Omond, St George’s Crypt’s head of marketing and PR, said: “We have set up a table in the car park. We put a lunch/care package on the table. The person comes, picks it up and goes. We then put another one on the table and another person comes and picks that up.”
He said it was vital that the food supply to those in need continues safely. Andrew added: “We are being exceptionally strict about ‘come in, get it and go away’.
The charity’s spokesman said big steps were being taken for a co-ordinated food distribution across Leeds. But at the moment, St George’s couldn’t be sure the food it provided wasn’t the only meal the hungry were getting. He added: “It’s bad enough that we’ve got coronavirus, but it would be even worse if people were getting malnourished or worse.”
The charity is still providing shelter for vulnerable people during the crisis. There are 15 individual rooms within the crypt, which are being used by the ‘most vulnerable’. But 33 people who had been housed in dormitories have been moved to safe and suitable accommodation in partnership with Leeds City Council.
St George’s normally runs face-to-face programmes to help people tackle substance addictions. But COVID-19 restrictions has put a break on these physical meetings. So St George’s has embraced Zoom, the video conferencing app, so it can continue its rehabilitation work remotely. This has been at the request of its service users.
Other clients, who are socially distancing, have even created a ‘Ready Steady Cook’ style contest on Facebook because ‘it’s good to talk to talk over food’.
Andrew said: “Because the whole world is in this situation, the world is having to come up with solutions. So luckily we are able to benefit from the world’s creativity.”
But the coronavirus has hit St George’s retail and fundraising arm particularly hard. Andrew said: “We can’t sell anything in our shops and cafes. We can’t host events. One of our biggest events has been postponed and potentially it might be cancelled.”
The charity has been getting help with food from restaurants. It is also using stocks built up at Christmas when it received record food donations. But Andrew said the crypt, like many other agencies, was ‘up against it financially’. He said the best way people could support it was by making an online donation via its website,www.stgeorgescrypt.org.uk.
But Andrew added: “I think it is important to say the city is coming together. Not that the city doesn’t come together generally, but this has given us something very much to focus on.”
He added: “It is there and it is happening. There are hiccups and you can’t get things right first time. But people are pushing hard and doing pretty amazing things.”
St George’s Crypt has been serving the homeless and vulnerable of Leeds since 1930.
It was established by Rev Don Robins and a team of volunteers.
The Crypt, on Great George Street in Leeds city centre, was cleaned out and turned into a homeless shelter offering food, shelter and support.
This has formed the foundation of all the work carried out since.
While the charity has expanded and contracted since its conception it has always stayed true to its core values. This is to support homeless and vulnerable people in Leeds to achieve stable and positive lives.
The charity now runs a range of health and well-being activities, a drug and alcohol recovery project, independent supported flats working with alcohol dependents on a reduction programme.
The support group also works with an attitude of acceptance and engagement. So it engages with clients to ensure they achieve the best possible outcomes no matter what the time frame.
The coronavirus has brought a halt to its shops, cafes and fundraising events. So donations are more vital than ever before.
But both staff and service users are pulling together to try and minimise the disruption as much as possible.
Chris Fields, the CEO of St George’s Crypt in Leeds, has also been using his old chef skills to help feed the vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis.
Pictures used in this article have been taken by John Angerson.