World Health Day, falling on 7th April this year, aims to draw attention to urgent actions needed to keep humans and the planet healthy, and foster a movement to create societies focused on wellbeing. Plymouth Soup Run volunteers are acutely aware of the health and wellbeing impacts of homelessness. Frequently preventable deaths cutting life expectancy by around 30 years, increase in frailty of a similar amount, and multiple long-term mental and physical health conditions impacting on quality of life, all point to a health crisis for people affected by homelessness.
Housing is a crucial social determinant of health, and providing housing is a health intervention. We work closely with housing services to support those of our clients who are street homeless. However, the majority of our clients are housed but struggle financially to make ends meet. The food offered by the Plymouth Soup Run aims to be as nutritious as resources allow, recognising that a good diet is the foundation of good health. In this we benefit greatly from donations made by individuals, organisations and businesses.
But we are about much more than food. We also use opportunities for engagement to connect our clients with health services. As well as signposting to outreach GP and nurse services, we host healthcare providers who can deliver immediate specialist support. At our Saturday morning sessions at Shekinah in collaboration with the Plymouth Alliance and at our Sunday Soup Kitchen, we give clients the opportunity to get help with oral health, eyecare, smoking cessation, mental health, footcare and blood-borne viruses. This support has been facilitated by a grant from Plymouth University’s Higher Education Innovation Fund. During the Covid pandemic, we have taken measures to keep our clients and volunteers safe, delivered food to people self- isolating, and publicised and supported several vaccination sessions for our client group, including a recent one at the Sunday Soup Kitchen. We are also fortunate to have the opportunity to host healthcare providers of the future. Medical and dental students frequently join us as volunteers to help with food service and to gain experience in community outreach and engagement.
We are conscious that loneliness and social isolation, debt and boredom impact on mental health and wellbeing. In response, we provide direct support through offering a listening ear, a friendly face and consistent contact, as well as signposting clients to community services. Relationships with clients, supporters and partners underpin all that we do and that includes the rich collaborative relationships that we enjoy with statutory and charitable services in Plymouth, in the Alliance and beyond, who share our aim of working towards equity in health and wellbeing for our clients in common.