By André Hudepohl, Policy Advisor at Humanitas
To start with something positive: our country is in the position of having a well-developed and wide spread broadband ICT-infrastructure. Almost all social services, based on physical contact (individually or in groups) have stopped. Most of these contacts have been replaced by other means of contact (telephone, Facetime/Skype or chat) for elderly and/or vulnerable people who are concerned about Coronavirus. Large and robust organisations still can handle the demand with their existing pool of volunteers. If the situation should deteriorate, further action will become necessary.
Helplines from well-known organisations receive many questions. There is a great need among the elderly, vulnerable people to tell their story. Sometimes a chat is enough, sometimes further action is desirable. In that case (existing and new) volunteers are available. Many municipalities have a central contact point. In some projects (such as debt-support) virtual contact is combined with secured programs for exchanging confidential files and documents.
Volunteers of the Dutch Red Cross offer help at healthcare-centres, they disinfect ambulances, deliver food parcels, supply beds, blankets and pillows at a childcare centre for children of parents with vital professions. In Amsterdam, sports centres are furnished as accommodation for undocumented migrants.
There is a large increase in the willingness of people (also new spontaneous organisations) to offer services. But it works best, especially for elderly people, if they already have some kind of relationship and contact with a volunteer, and a well-known and reliable organisation. Most of the nationwide operating organisations have good access to vulnerable groups
Fostered by the government two years ago an experiment started with a kind of civil service period for young people between 17 and 28. Now the projects in this experiment can get means to start new activities and services in relation to the Corona-situation.
For the time being the existing infrastructure for contact is sufficient. In many cases supply seems to be bigger than the demand…. Cooperation between ‘established’ volunteering organisations and new initiatives prove to be very important. Spontaneous initiatives of citizens perfectly meet specific local situations, whereas more traditional and established organisations can provide professional and sustainable backing and long-term presence. In the coming months, experiments with new formats of “digicare” have to show additional value for various groups of lonely and vulnerable people living at home.