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Prioritising the needs of people who are homeless, in prison, or recently released during the coronavirus crisis

455 meals a week, supporting isolated prisoners, and staying connected in a time of crisis

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Shared meals, 1:1 mentoring over coffee, twice-weekly house visits, cooking sessions and celebrations. Because ACT is a community, so much of what we do is designed around spending time together as we support people to rebuild their lives after homelessness or prison.

But with coronavirus lockdown, that has had to change overnight.

Thanks to our brilliant volunteers, supporters and funders, ACT has been able to focus on meeting people’s most urgent needs as the coronavirus crisis unfolds. Collaborating closely with longstanding partners across the city, we have radically reordered our activities to adapt to the fast-changing situation.

Emergency food provision

We’re now cooking 65 hot meals a day (455 a week!) for Oxford’s homeless community. A team of community members, staff and volunteers is hard at work each day preparing meals packed with protein, carbohydrates and vitamins. These are then distributed to homeless and vulnerably-housed people outside St Aldates Church.

Commitment to isolated prisoners

While we may be locked down, people in prison are locked up and more isolated and fearful than ever now that visits are banned and social distancing impossible. But ACT’s prisons worker has permission to continue supporting prisoners at HMP Bullingdon. Her calm, familiar presence and the trust she has built with prisoners across the wings, including in segregation, is proving a lifeline.

Keeping up connection with ACT community members

21 community members live in 12 ACT houses across Oxford. Before the crisis, our housing team and mentors provided them with intensive, bespoke, in-person support. That is now being given remotely by phone or online throughout the week. Food parcels are also being prepared and delivered to vulnerable residents who can’t make it out to the shops.

If you are in a position to help, please email – we’d love to hear from you.

​Eleven practical ways to stay safe and well during the coronavirus crisis

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This is a tough time for everyone. While key workers are working flat out in highly challenging circumstances, others are finding themselves alone and fearful about the future. Whatever our experience, many of us are feeling increased levels of anxiety and loss.

It’s particularly hard for rough sleepers and people recently released from prison. Many have poor mental and physical health, reduced immunity, addiction issues and other vulnerabilities that place them at heightened risk at this time.

Alongside official government advice to:

  • stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people at all times when you go out
  • wash your hands regularly

there are other ways to stay as safe and well as possible throughout this period.

Here are eleven practical suggestions:

  1. Find and stick to a daily rhythm that suits you. A routine can bring welcome structure, so try getting up at the same time each morning, and including regular activities such as meal preparation or calls with friends or family.
  2. Prioritise regular exercise – this can help lower your stress levels, increase your energy levels, boost your mental health, and improve your sleep.
  3. Get out into a green space whenever you can. Researchshows that just 15 minutes spent outside in a park, meadow or wood helps people to feel psychologically restored.
  4. Be intentional about eating balanced meals. Boredom and stress can lead to poor eating patterns, which in turn can lead to a dip in mood. Break the cycle by being as thoughtful as you can about what you eat.
  5. Keep up contact with friends and family. Physical isolation doesn’t mean social isolation, and there are lots of fun ways to stay in touch – from online pub quizzes and virtual coffees to retro-style phone calls.
  6. Cut back on the media you follow. Too long spent following the news can be overwhelming. Try checking in just once a day to stay up to date.
  7. Switch off. Carving out regular time to reflect quietly, pray or meditate can bring much-needed calm and space.
  8. Make a self-soothe box. Fill an old shoe box with things that are helpful or special to you – like the lyrics of a favourite song, stress toys, a room scent or notes from friends or family.
  9. Treat yourself by spending time doing the things you love – whether that’s dancing, listening to music, painting, watching comedy, growing some veg...
  10. Breathe. If you’re feeling anxious deep, slow breathing can really help. Try box breathing, for example, where you breathe in for four counts, hold your breath for four, breathe out for four and hold for four. Then repeat.
  11. Be self-aware. Do you know the signs that indicate you’re not coping? Maybe it’s headaches, an inability to focus or irritability – whatever they are, watch out for warning signs and take action when you spot them.

If you find yourself struggling, we recommend the help that these organisations provide:

24/7 Mental Health Helpline for Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire for advice about ways to access mental health support

Samaritans for people finding it hard to cope

Turning Point for drug or alcohol issues

Mind for mental health concerns

Cruse Bereavement Care for support with grief

Christians Against Poverty for debt counselling

Citizens Advice for help accessing benefits

Contact ACT

40 Pembroke Street
01865 254800

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