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Broad approach to loneliness

Shortly before corona broke out, in the autumn of 2019, Oosterhuis and Mensink organized the ‘Week against Loneliness’. There were already several partners, but with the conference they wanted to involve more parties. “We thought: where do lonely people come, where do we find them? That’s how we ended up with all kinds of locations and organizations,” says Oosterhuis. “Think of the DIY market, supermarkets, general practitioners, pharmacy, football club, food bank, toy bank, the cleaning company. We started calling them with the question: we need you; you see lonely people that we, healthcare institutions and social workers, do not see. Because they don’t know how to find support. Or out of shame.” This action brought about 100 participants to the conference, many new parties. They received information about what loneliness is and what it does to people. Mensink: “And we discussed what role they could play in Almelo’s broad approach to loneliness. After the conference, we made more concrete agreements with parties that wanted to contribute.”

Meeting during corona

Then corona broke out and had to be improvised. “A lot of things fell silent,” Oosterhuis emphasizes. “For example, the walk-in to my healthcare facility was closed. While for many people that is an important place for a cup of coffee, chat, or read a newspaper.” Mensink: “At the same time, we saw all kinds of initiatives in the city. From professional organizations, but also from residents. Online dance groups, ticket promotions, cooking for each other. With Kom Erbij, we then ensured that all those initiatives were placed on the online platform almelovoorelkaar.nl. In this way supply and demand could find each other better. We also organized, for example, a radio program in which we played request pictures. The chat around it was just as important.” As soon as it was possible again, the coalition started with ‘Meeting Days’. These are now organized monthly, and a different partner is always standing at the bar. “The first time, about 100 people attended,” says Oosterhuis. “We had arranged vans to pick up people. We then heard from participants that they really needed to be among people again after the first lockdown.”

Sustainable signal point for loneliness

The ‘Signal Point for Loneliness’ has also been in place since the first quarter of 2022. Though the signal point is deliberately for more than just loneliness. Because loneliness, dementia, poverty, homelessness are often not independent of each other. “We also want a sustainable signal point,” emphasizes Mensink. “Not something that will be gone in a year. That is also because the corona crisis is expected to have an impact on society for a long time to come. That is why we are going to link the signal point to a welfare organisation. He will also monitor the signal point, on yields but also on how many people are reported and helped. The municipality considers this important because we also want to use the signal point, for example, to see how corona continues to work.”

Informal and professional support from network partners

The value of the signal point stands and falls with a good follow-up of a signal. “We also aim for a good balance between professional and more informal help,” explains Mensink. “This is in line with the municipality’s wish to ‘normalize’ as much as possible. This means that we want to offer people support and solutions as lightly as possible. And thereby also activate as many people as possible”, says Van Mierlo. “You can sometimes achieve a lot with informal support and small things”, is Oosterhuis’s experience. “We see lonely people who start participating again, for example as volunteers at the walk-in. Another example is someone who came from the Social Support Act and became a language coach. Strengthening that movement means significant savings on health care and municipal costs.”

“Municipalities, care and welfare organizations are in any case faced with enormous tasks in the social domain,” says Mensink. “Not only because of corona, but also, for example, because of the aging population and dementia. The professional organizations will soon no longer be able to cope with the demand for support, and the government will soon be unable to pay for all that care and support. Informal support by volunteers and participation of network partners is desperately needed. Many companies are also willing to contribute, based on social responsibility. If you can mobilize that, if you get such a movement in society, professional care organizations will move along.”

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