Thursday, 25 January 2018

Helping our Homeless

Nicky Pugh, Ashley Morris and Sarah Mason
I recently came across this relatively new group in Llandrindod Wells on Facebook. Prior to that I had not realised that there was support for homeless people in Powys, and realised I knew very little about the subject. Homelessness is suddenly very much in the news – particularly in Windsor because of an imminent Royal wedding – but what of the situation in Powys?

Reading on further on the group’s Facebook page I discovered that much fundraising work had taken place locally in the lead up to Christmas 2017. As a result Helping our Homeless had “supported homeless in Swansea, Cardiff and in our local vicinity, most recently supporting local homeless with clothing, essential items of food and toiletries and footwear.”

Keen to find out more, I messaged the group on Facebook, and one of the group’s founders, Sarah Mason, quickly got in touch. She told me how she, Ashley and Kayleigh Morris, Lee Jarvis and Nicky Pugh came together to take action to help homeless people.

Tell us how the group Helping our Homeless came about and why?

Last year I saw a post on Facebook from Ashley, who was going to do a calendar where every day he placed an item in a box to give to the homeless at the end of the time. I messaged Ashley and his wife to offer some donations as she had been collecting items over the past couple of years and donated these. Ashley and Kayleigh accepted my donation, and this led to us talking about possibly going bigger.

During the year I met Lee Jarvis in a local supermarket and we spoke about homelessness and raising money. Lee agreed this was a good way forward and came on board. Another friend, Nicky, joined us soon later.

After September, I contacted all the interested parties and we met in a local pub where we put together a plan of what we would like to achieve. To be honest we have never looked back.

What is the main purpose of the group?

We want to provide practical and emotional support to homeless people and their animal companions. At the same time we hope to raise awareness of homelessness with the general population.

Who is eligible for support from Helping our Homeless?

Anyone who is street homeless in Wales (but not exclusively), and their animal companions.

We also work with agencies and individuals to reduce poverty and prevent homelessness. In particular we are keen to support Shelters across Wales and in surrounding areas.

How many homeless people are there in Powys roughly and how are where are they living?

A lot of homeless people in Powys are not accounted for on the rough sleeping count as unlike the street homeless in the cities, we don’t always see them here. In a large rural county people could be sleeping rough in barns or farm outbuildings, or in woodland, and remain hidden much of the time.

(The National Rough Sleeping Count, produced by the Welsh Government, is “an annual report which includes information on the estimated number of persons sleeping rough over a two week period and the number of persons observed sleeping rough.”)

Why are people homeless in Powys or elsewhere?

There is no one reason why people become homeless. All kinds of factors can lead to homelessness, including health issues, unemployment, and family breakdown. Many homeless people have previously been employed and in a position to pay for their housing, but something suddenly changes and their lives are turned upside down.

Some of the key factors leading to homelessness include: benefit changes, a rise in the cost of living, the loss of employment and a lack of new job opportunities. Also a person’s mental health may deteriorate, they may have drug and alcohol or other addictions, or a completely unexpected change in their circumstances could lead to homelessness.

It is said that most people are just two pay cheques away from poverty and three from homelessness.

What support does Helping our Homeless provide to people?

We provide essentials, care, and face-to-face interaction, whether in Powys or further afield.

On the practical side, we find that the essential items homeless people really do need are food, care packs, toiletries, clothing and some form of shelter for their time on the streets. Tents and sleeping bags are very popular! We will also provide first aid provisions.

We talk to people. We empathise. We guide people to other agencies that can offer support. We spend time engaging and trying to make day-to-day life easier for those on the streets.

Most importantly, we offer face-to-face confidential support without judgment. We are a face that cares.

In other parts of the UK we will work directly with local shelters and help promote the invaluable work they do.

As a group we provide online support to each other.

How does being homeless impact on a person’s mental health?

Hugely. Many homeless people are struggling with low self-esteem. Their confidence and morale have completely dipped. Some people have such low self-worth, and are so lonely, that they resort to self harming, including substance misuse. In worse case scenarios, some people have suicidal thoughts.

Physical health can also deteriorate rapidly when people are sleeping rough. If they are not eating regularly they can experience malnutrition, and, inevitably, they tolerate a deterioration in their personal hygiene.

If people don’t receive the support they need, what can happen to them?

Health can deteriorate rapidly, with the result that homeless people have a lower life expectancy.

They are also far more likely to commit crime. Due to their circumstances they may lack self control, and they may become addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Homeless people are still entitled to claim benefits using the Simple Payment card. However, in reality not everyone receives all the benefits that they are entitled to.

I know you want to grow your group – what are your main aims?

We would really like to register Helping our Homeless formally as a charity – we are working with PAVO development workers to progress this. The next step would be to expand the group, so we will raise awareness of our activities as much as we can with the aim of recruiting more volunteers. Bigger, more permanent premises, with sufficient storage space would be an added bonus!

If people are interested in volunteering for the group, what roles are available (alternatively, what skills do you need)?

Roles that we currently have available include:
  • Collecting donations.
  • Sorting the donations that come to us.
  • Advertising.
  • Distributing.
  • Fundraising.
  • Promoting the cause.
Do get in touch if you are interested! Contact details below.

Which other organisations do you work closely with, either locally in Powys, or in the rest of the UK, to provide support to people?

Quite a few, mainly in Wales. In Swansea these include Unity Group Wales, the Unum Project and Zac’s Place. In Llandrindod Wells – Mid Powys Mind, the local food bank, and the Herb Garden Community CafĂ©.

We also engage with lots of online shelters and organisations.

What are the main challenges of the role?

The big one - not being able to commit as much time as we would like. And feeling so far away as we are remotely based.

On a very practical level, we currently lack long-term storage, and vehicles – we would love a van.

We also have to deal with our own mental challenges as we carry out the work.

Tell us about some of the most rewarding work you have done at Helping our Homeless so far.

Our top 8 most rewarding aspects so far:
  1. Provided shelter to many rough sleepers.
  2. Food and drinks.
  3. Medical aid.
  4. Support and advice.
  5. Support to other shelters.
  6. Time with the street homeless.
  7. Making our street homeless feel wanted.
  8. Learning about the street homeless and building relationships.
When you are not volunteering how do you enjoy spending your time?

We all work full time, so we juggle working with volunteering. Some of our hobbies include bowls, football, pool, art and craft work. And we spend time with our families of course!

Many thanks to Sarah and the rest of the team at Helping our Homeless for telling us more about their work in Mid and South Wales in particular.

If you want to find out more or get involved you can contact Sarah by ringing 07775 851 718 or send a message on the Helping our Homeless Facebook page.

On the BBC website this week two articles feature Homelessness:

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