London: Pritham who had been attending a meals for the homeless project at British Asian Christian Association's headquarters took his life by jumping from a train, in what his friends have said was increasing depression over self-isolation and a lack of support services.
The impact of the death was felt widely creating anguish amongst the homeless community and the charities that support them, many of whom new him well.
On Friday 3rd April, Pastor Andrew Willis, from High Road Baptist Church, broke his self-isolation temporarily, to give a short message of condolence and hope to the many homeless people who attend, a now daily, free evening hot meal prepared by BACA and their partners.
At the end of his prayer, he said: "We smile, we pray that in the loneliness and separation, that somehow we will now, that still you are with us."
In the wake of the UK-wide lockdown instigated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, many local Redbridge support groups stopped preparing meals for the homeless and providing other support, due to a lack of volunteers who were either self-isolating due to COVID-19-like symptoms or for fear of infection. One charity ceased support while they awaited guidance on whether or not it was legal to continue. BACA however, continued our work after altering our methodology.
We then shared our risk assessment with several local groups and were able to coax Singh Sabha East London and SS Peters and Paul's Church to join with us. Now in collaboration all three groups and East Ilford Betterment Partnership who have been a long term partner, are ensuring homeless people have access to a hot meal every day, which is served from the Car Park of the Prince of Wales Pub, Green Lane at 6pm Monday to Sunday, with an additional meal at 1.30pm on Sunday. BACA is making their equipment and opening their centre to all groups to enable this to happen. Read more (here)
Rather alarmingly, when seeking to deliver food to the homeless men to rear of Ilford Exchange, our volunteers found the street had been cordoned by local police. Fearing that other homeless friends had self-harmed the volunteers travelled the long way around the town centre and entered from the other side of the rear alleyway, after obtaining police permission. We found that the four men we serve were still residing and themselves were worried about the police presence, because of the danger of their proximity to a major crime. The men told us that there had been no offer of assistance to them, so we advised them to get help from the Welcome Centre in Ilford. We have reported our concerns about these and other rough sleepers known to us, to Redbridge Council.
Working with Fareshare a charity that connect local groups like ours to major supermarket grocery stores BACA have also connected with 'Tesco Metro' Collier Row and 'Tesco Extra' Gallows Corner. Donations from these two stores have ensured that the local homeless, and people who were suffering financial hardship prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a consequence of lost employment due to the lockdown; are receiving help with essential food gifts. Our food bank runs daily and has continued operation during the pandemic despite other groups terminating services. Our Operational practice follows key principles of social distancing and good hygiene (especially that of hands). Our practices include:
Washing of hands prior to delivery of service and a full hand wash at the end of our service - both at least 20 secs.
Our staff and volunteers then apply disposable gloves onto their hands and will use hand gel on gloves regularly throughout food service, especially while setting up and breaking down.
A squirt of 70% alcohol hand gel on the hands of all recipients (required to rub hands) before receipt of food gift - we thank Rotary International for donating stock of alcoholic hand gel.
Disinfection of our tables before and after service
We also apply a strict rule on all our visitors; they will not be served any food gifts unless they maintain a gap of 6ft between each other while queuing. Food is not picked up directly but placed into hands of visitor by our staff and volunteers.
All our food gift services are now undertaken on the car park of the Prince of Wales pub, who have generously allowed use of their facility.
As a calming measure for those who wait patiently we play music from a portable speaker and also use a microphone to issue instructions to ensure the safety of all.
All our volunteers who work with these vulnerable groups have obtained an enhanced DBS check which is valid.
Our risk assessment has stayed dynamic and our methodology has changed several times. This video was taken prior to lockdown when we operated a staggered schedule for food bank, with a maximum of five visitors at a time to our community centre to ensure appropriate social-distancing.
Juliet Chowdhry, Trustee for BACA, said: "Hearing about the death of Pritham was a moment of deep sadness, our volunteers are attached to all we support and Pritham will be missed.
"His death has also caused a lot of emotional pain in the homeless community and we thank Pastor Andrew Willis for placing himself in danger, to console many people suffering their own depression and now this additional hurt."
She also spoke about plans for the homeless in Ilford, she said: "We have built a solid platform of daily support for homeless and economically challenged families and individuals, by working with committed hard-working groups and we give thanks to all our partners.
"We are connecting with wider groups too and are ensuring where possible that pathways to further support are made to the most desperate and needy.
"BACA is mapping where homeless people are still rough sleeping and are ensuring that Redbridge Council is informed of their locations - more must be done to ensure this group has access to safe, self-isolation centres.
"Our regular clients have shared accounts of a deepening sense of loneliness and they are now using our whatsapp groups to communicate with one another.
"This helps them to feel part of a community and provides necessary social contact, however visitors queuing for our foodbank and meals for the homeless have vivid conversations while social distancing.
"Though we never envisaged our events would provide a loneliness buffer it is evident that for many collecting food has become the highlight of their day.
"This interaction, accounts shared with us of a the onset on gloom from being alone and the recent death of Pritham (RIP), has led us to believe that depression is increasing amongst the homeless community in particular, who already face social-isolation.
"Our government must make available additional resources, to help remove that sense of being alone from this most vulnerable group."