It’s nine in the morning and the staff at the Homeless Action Barnet centre in North Finchley’s Woodhouse Road are opening up for the day. After two years of coping with the challenges of coronavirus, how is life at the centre now? 

At the start of the lockdown, back in March 2020, the priority was to get homeless people off the street and into temporary accommodation. Then HAB staff and volunteers worked with Together in Barnet to make up and deliver food parcels to them twice a week.

The centre stayed open for drop‑ins, albeit in a socially distanced way in the garden. But now that all national restrictions have been lifted, a full range of services is back on offer to those in need of them - as well as some new ones. 

Centre Co-ordinator Olamide Adetunji explains. “In the mornings we are open for the rough sleeper service. People can come in for a hot meal, to take a shower, get new clothes or meet a support worker. 

“The menu changes every day depending on what food has been donated by companies such as Greggs and Costco. 

The newly refurbished showers at the HAB day centre“We have a stock of clothes so that people can be helped to find what they need. And the shower rooms were refurbished during the pandemic lockdown so now they are really nice and clean. 

“We still support clients to take lateral flow tests and we also ask them to wear masks and socially distance.” 

HAB CEO Joe Lee explained. “Our clients are such a vulnerable group and many are unvaccinated. It’s a big challenge. With the lifting of national restrictions, people tend to think it’s all over. But Covid is still here and we still need to take precautions. 

“During the lockdown more than 180 people were moved into temporary accommodation and a significant number are still there.  Before Covid, we might have 60 to 70 people a day coming to the centre. Now it’s more of a trickle as we are encouraging those in accommodation not to come unless it is to collect a food parcel. But we are seeing some new rough sleepers who have heard about the centre and the help we offer. 

“The problem of homelessness has certainly not gone away. Indeed, with the cost of living crisis facing us, it will only get worse.”

A range of advice and support is available. In the afternoons clients have appointments with their case workers.  Other services are offered on specific days.

GP and chiropody services were available pre-pandemic but new ones are now being introduced. The charity Change Grow Live (CGL) is offering help for people with drug and alcohol problems. Debt advice will also be available and it is hoped that Department of Work and Pensions will be able to offer advice about benefits.

HAB has always been about more than finding people somewhere safe to stay. Olamide says: “We work with people to achieve the change they have identified they need to make in life. And the centre is at the heart of everything.”