Volunteers gathered at St Christopher’s church hall in Newington tonight (November 30) to prepare for tomorrow’s opening of the Thanet Winter Shelter scheme.
Thanet District Council has put £20,000 into the shelter scheme, which will be operated by the Salvation Army and looks to continue the success of last year’s initiative in helping rough sleepers off the streets during the harsh winter months.
As well as providing bed, clothes and food, a key aim is to better equip some of the district’s most vulnerable people to help them secure and retain longer-term accommodation There is also help with training and employment.
The Winter Shelter is again to run alongside Glo Gen’s Aspire Homelessness programme and the homeless charity, Porchlight. The co-ordinated response means that individuals won’t simply leave after breakfast as they are provided with practical help throughout the day. Guests can access support, including training and skills, from one place, helping them to make the difficult move from homelessness to rehabilitation back into the community.
The shelter runs from December 1 to February 28.
Guest turned volunteer
Among those helping this year is Will Anderson who was helped by the project last year.
The 42-year-old found himself homeless last December. Following a relationship break up he had been staying with a friend but circumstances meant he had to leave.
The former retail worker and adult care support worker had just the clothes he was stood in and a rucksack with a few personal belongings.
Former Conyngham student Will said: “I went to the council and told them I had been made homeless but as a single man I was low priority. I had heard about the winter shelter through Aspire and mentioned it. They made some calls and then sent me to St Laurence to meet the project manager.
“It was December and it was cold. I literally had what I was wearing and my rucksack. I didn’t know if they would be able to help me. When I got there I looked in the hall and it was already filling up. I had an interview and when he said yes it was the best thing,
“I thought it was just for the night but I was told I could stay until the end.
“What they did for me and the others was unbelievable. The meals were brilliant, every cook in those halls put their heart and soul into it. The volunteers would sit and eat with us and after would chat and try and help us through what we were feeling.”
Will says he is “one of the lucky ones” because he was homeless for “just” six weeks.
With help from Aspire and others Will was able to get a flat in Cliftonville.
He said: “It was massive compared to what I expected. I literally walked in there with nothing but people were so generous, helping with everything from plates to a bed.”
Will, whose health had suffered since the break up, is now waiting for some hospital results and then hopes to get back into social care for adults with learning difficulties.
Until then he has volunteered his time to be a supervisor at the Baptist Church winter shelter in Margate.
He said: “I can bring my own personal experience as a support worker and as someone who has been here. I’d like other people to get the same as I got out of it. You speak to people who do not want to be homeless any more and I can talk to them about that. I hope that myself and my colleagues can give other people the hope that was given to us, being able to feel normal again.”
Meet volunteer Charlie Harley, 40, from Ramsgate. Charlie volunteers with East Kent Independent Dementia Support and will be helping at the shelter for her second year.
Charlie will be an evening supervisor once a week, making sure meals are being cooked and volunteers know what needs to be done.
The mum-of-one said: “Once the guests are in we’ll sit and have dinner and then talk, or play cards, read books until 11pm when it is lights out.
“Last year we had around 12 people a night, this year our first night is already full up (20 people).
“When I was younger my dad used to take us to the Mayor’s Show in London but we would always get off at waterloo and walk through ‘cardboard city’ with Dad saying this was the other side of life.
“We’d always understood the issue as Dad worked in housing in Islington. I just think it is really good to give back to our community. What I like is it isn’t just a bed, it’s a whole programme. It literally helps with every aspect of people’s lives, with council and other agencies and getting our guests engaged and providing support.”
Mental health support
Unique to Thanet’s Winter Shelter is engaging with the Kent Mental Health practitioners to ensure guests are referred to the most appropriate primary care or charity sector services for their needs.
Last year 52% of visitors took up the offer of mental health support, equating to 134 contacts and 80.5 hours, saving the health economy £35,510.
The person in charge of that effort last year, and again this year, is liaison psychiatric matron Amanda Lailey.
Amanada, from Ramsgate, already works with three teams in east Kent’s hospitals providing mental health support
She joined last year as a volunteer but following some talks took on the job of providing mental health assessments and support.
She said: “Everyone gets offered a mental health assessment and from there we formulate a plan, it might be interventions while people are in the shelter or going to a GP.
“I saved the health economy some £40,000 in 12 weeks last year and this year want to look at outcomes so we can evidence to shelter that just one person can make these savings and make a difference.
“If you are sleeping rough your mental health will be affected, your emotional well-being is affected. If I can get people to the right place, maybe therapy, grief counselling, all these things get people connected again.
“My favourite thing is just sitting and eating together and having a maybe mundane conversation. Often our gusts feel disconnected, that they are second class and no-one cares. But people are social, we are used to conversation. I use music a lot and films, we have movie quizzes, it brings people together.”
The project manager and the waking night supervisor.
Julie Nicholson is this year’s project manager and Billy Fairbrother is in a paid role as waking night supervisor, something new for this year’s shelter project.
Julie said: “My role is strategic and operational management, so admin, IT, making sure we have enough volunteers, marketing, fundraising.
“We have made some changes this year. Last year volunteers were doing the waking night supervisor role, this year we have Billy and Kerry Byrne in paid roles. Our supervisors have been interviewed and selected and they will concentrate on developing their teams.
“We are fully booked for the first night. A lot of people are giving up their time to help. It’s really amazing. We are hoping to turn people around quickly, to get them the support they need for housing. Some will be ready for independent living, others may need support.”
Billy will be on hand to make sure he evenings run smoothly. He said: “I’ll be doing risk assessments, security, and generally just being here to help and support people and coordinate if any issues arise.”
Thanet council deputy leader Lin Fairbrass was at St Christopher’s Church while the preparations were being made. She said this year is more prepared than last and she was hopeful of even greater successes.
She said: “Last year was amazing but this year we are going to do an even better job. It is a completely rounded service whereas last year was more of a learning process. This time will be more structured and we are looking for even better outcomes than last year.”
Last year of the 25 guest who used the shelter, 23 were in accommodation by the end. With a total of 42 guests over the three months, the shelter offered 1,350 beds for the night and 2,768 meals to those sleeping rough across Thanet.
This year more than 50 people have already been referred and the scheme will involve seven church halls in Margate and Ramsgate.
They will each provide shelter for up to 20 people per night, along with an evening meal, access to showers and bed and breakfast.
To be eligible for one of the 20 bed spaces each night, people need to be verified as rough sleeping and have been assessed under homeless legislation and have a connection with Thanet.
You can help
The Winter Shelter Scheme is currently looking for volunteers and donations to support the initiative.
Donations to help pay for the service and goods such as bedding can be made at The Salvation Army, Ramsgate Corps,167a High Street, Ramsgate or on the justgiving page by clicking here
Homelessness and Housing advice
If you need help and advice, please go TDC’s Housing information pages.