Our new chief executive Nicola Miller talks about how RESTART is keeping homeless people connected as they face the ‘power poverty’ of Covid-19.


The power of staying connected

With lockdown restrictions expected to remain in place to some degree for several more weeks, it seems likely that social distancing, self-isolation and shielding measures will play a role in our everyday lives for the foreseeable future. 


No doubt we all have a newfound appreciation of being able to go online, stream content and the comfort this can bring. The rise of apps and tools designed to keep us connected to each other when we can’t be together is bringing comfort as we reach out to loved ones and cope as best we can.


Many businesses have responded to this unprecedented situation by removing restrictions on access to their online content, waiving additional fees incurred during this period for the public and for employers getting to grips with new ways of living and working.


But this largely assumes people can get online via their mobile devices or computers in the first place. 


Free WiFi and power sockets that the homeless community relies upon to stay connected and manage their lives have vanished overnight, along with the support offered by many services combatting homelessness that have had no choice but to close their doors.


Access to free public WiFi has been greatly reduced with the closure of most cafes, pubs and restaurants that people affected by homelessness rely upon to stay connected with support, advice, friends and entertainment. Where access still exists, it is with little comfort or privacy and exposed to the elements.


The impact of ‘power poverty’


This type of ‘power poverty’ presents a particular problem to the homeless community. The cost of mobile data has dropped recently but the best deals are accessed via a mobile phone contract and represent a cost that is beyond the reach of many. Key workers in the homelessness, housing or charity sectors are trying to keep in touch with clients during the COVID-19 crisis but they use data-hungry apps like Zoom to do this. This means their clients cannot always get proper online access to their face-to-face contact and support.


Similarly, a lack of places where power sockets are accessible for homeless people to charge their phones presents a barrier for those who have few alternatives to staying connected.


There is a real risk that people who are rough sleeping, confined to shared hostel accommodation or secure accommodation but still living in relative financial poverty will become even more isolated and detached, with significant impact upon their physical and mental wellbeing.


How RESTART is fighting back


RESTART has responded directly to these new needs and challenges faced by our guests to offer support differently during this period of increased risk of isolation and further disadvantage.


We are collaborating with Refettorio Felix at St Cuthbert’s Centre, enabling the existing weekday lunch service to be extended to visitors 7 days per week. The RESTART team now runs a free hot food takeaway service there at weekends instead of our usual Friday night drop-in nearby: a direct response to the lockdown closure of most other similar services across London.


But this goes beyond providing much-needed meals to local people who, thanks to the lockdown and social distancing, have found themselves even more isolated than before.


At RESTART, we recognise and are concerned that ‘power poverty’ is disproportionately affecting London’s homeless during the Covid-19 lockdown.


Our ‘Recharge with RESTART’ project is plugging the power gap by providing London’s homeless with access to free portable phone chargers – which can be brought back to recharge at our Power-Up Library whenever they visit us at St Cuthbert’s Centre, Earl’s Court.


We’re also offering something of a lifeline to people experiencing homelessness in London by providing free mobile data packs to get online plus unlimited texts and calls. Thanks to generous support from mobile provider GiffGaff, ‘Reconnect with RESTART’ will cover costs of staying connected that would otherwise be beyond the reach of most.


We’re maintaining regular contact with guests via our new Befriending Network of volunteers. The focus is on active listening, checking in and offering emotional companionship and support during this challenging period for mental health amongst. We’re also supporting the rough sleepers amongst our guests with their referrals into the via Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea hotel accommodation scheme for the duration of the lockdown in London.


How you can help us fight power poverty


I am so incredibly grateful for the unwavering support of our colleagues, volunteers and guests, without whom we couldn’t get this off the ground. But we need more help.


If you would like to support the RESTART Fight Power Poverty campaign, please consider making a donation and sharing about our campaign on social media using the hashtag #fightpowerpoverty. 


Together we can help London’s homeless community to take back their power during the Covid-19 crisis.


Please donate here: http://virginmoneygiving.com/fund/fightpowerpoverty