As more and more local authorities report rising homelessness across the country, housing professionals from Hanover Housing Association have been doing their bit to support people in their community and help send a message that no one should be without a home that truly meets their needs.
There has been a worrying rise in the number of people who are homeless – the latest figures from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government point towards more people sleeping rough on the streets of England than at any point this decade, with a 73 per cent increase over the last three years alone.
Three years ago Larisa Dexter, a support assistant from Hanover’s Hedgerow Court estate in East Ham answered a plea at her local church for volunteers to help the London borough of Newham’s NEWway Project. Every night Larisa and a small team of volunteers make up beds, prepare home cooked meals and offer homeless people a safe and secure place to stay. The shelter caters for up to 15 guests per night.
Awarded a prestigious ‘Excellence Standard’ Housing Justice Quality Mark, the NEWway Project was set up in 2013 to support the rising numbers of homeless people in the area. It works alongside specialist support agencies, local volunteers and churches across Newham to provide a winter night shelter, as well as year round advocacy and daytime support services for local rough sleepers.
“When I first heard the heartfelt plea from the NEWway Project workers, I just had to get involved. It’s rewarding to be able to give people a clean warm bed for the night, a nice hot home-cooked meal and just being there for them if they want to talk. I have made friends with some of the guests as well as the volunteers. I’ve even give one of the guests work to decorate my bathroom.”
In another part of the country, Jo Arnott, one of Hanover’s regional housing managers, has joined a small outreach group called Caring for Cambridgeshire’s Homeless. The group works with rough sleepers in Cambridge. She has had a lot of experience of drug and alcohol issues, having previously worked with homeless young people.
The group have around 800 followers on their Facebook page and a core group of people providing hot drinks, food, toiletries and clothing directly to those sleeping rough. The outreach team also gives advice about local services and an initiative known as SWEP (Severe Weather Emergency Protocol) where local churches open their doors for rough sleepers during the winter months when people’s health is often at greatest risk.
“I am extremely passionate about what we do and hope that the work we do is making a difference to peoples’ lives. Last week we came across someone sitting on the pavement who we hadn’t seen before. He was new to Cambridge and only had the clothes he was wearing. We were able to provide him with a sleeping bag, rucksack, clean socks and something hot to drink.”