We opened the door tonight at 6pm to 54 people of which 35 people walked in during the first 7 minutes.
The night was filled with laughter and a friendly atmosphere, behind that however is always desperation sadness and fear. So many people are living unsettled, transient lives not knowing where they are going to end up or what to do and who to go to for help and who to trust.
We had quite a few conversations where people are very sad and frustrated waiting in limbo for housing, treatment, benefit claims, struggling with job searches and general support and someone to hold their hand and fight for them and give them a voice. Meryl does a lot of this, but we need more help. It is very stressful, time consuming and frustrating.
The benefit system is a minefield for instance, so we have to rely on the support of organisations such as CAB.
Our clients get very confused, frustrated and find it harder and harder to continue the fight and engage. It has become apparent to us that often our clients are told conflicting information when applying for housing benefit, Universal Credit, Personal Independent Payment and other support. It is confusing for the best of us without having to deal with mental health or illness and addiction on top.
Every week we are asked for help. Sometimes we do not know how to deliver that support, so we have to start from scratch to find out. Some requests are very unusual, and it takes someone with determination and grit to keep going to get to the root of a problem. This can be a background volunteer position so research, form filling, phone calls and plenty of patience and determination would be the requirement. Volunteer@newburysoupkitchen.org.uk
This week there has been a very interesting article from the BBC. Homeless figures in this country are high and growing. Once a year annual count is done. Every county has a set day, West Berkshire is usually in November.
2019 Rough Sleeping Snapshot Statistics
An analysis of 2019 rough sleeping estimates
On the 27th of February 2020, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government released the autumn 2019 figures for rough sleeping. These statistics are based on either a count-based estimate, an evidence-based estimate, or an evidence-based estimate including a spotlight count, which provide a snapshot figure of the number of people sleeping rough on a typical night between October and November 20191. The following analysis provides a regional breakdown of the figures, and identifies the local authority areas with the largest changes compared with previous years. The concluding section features a gender-based and nationality-based analysis of the data.
A total of 4,266 people were deemed to be sleeping rough in England on a single ‘typical’ night in autumn 2019, representing a 9% decrease from the 2018 figure of 4,677. This is the highest percentage decrease since 2010.
However the Since 2010, the figures used for national statistics have used the following definition of rough sleeping:
“People sleeping, about to bed down (sitting on/in or standing next to their bedding) or actually bedded down in the open air (such as, on the streets, in tents, doorways, parks, bus shelters or encampments). People in buildings or other places not designed for habitation (such as stairwells, barns, sheds, car parks, cars, derelict boats, stations, or ‘bashes’). The definition does not include people in hostels or shelters, sofa surfers, people in campsites or other sites used for recreational purposes or organised protests, squatters or Travellers sites.
Locally the designated people who go out and “count” rough sleepers are very aware how many people are around as we all work very closely with all individuals. On the night of the count the numbers actually counted are very different from the actual figures. People who sleep rough do often sofa surf with friends, go to different area for a bit, go off to the toilet (so they are not by their tent or doorway) just not by their bedding when people turn up to count. The BBC this week have released an article on this issue. The actual number of rough sleepers is higher than reported due to the difficulty of the task in the first place. Inner cities and town are very difficult to monitor as people are and can be very transient.
West Berkshire usually do a count on the same November night as attached counties. This hopefully helps with a more accurate count if people have moved across county boarders. We do know that the official national statistics for rough sleeping is not accurate. The BBC article is in the attachment below.
Supporting Our Local Rough Sleepers
This week we have become aware of four new rough sleepers who come to our attention. Last night two young people turned up. As it was late we were unable to do much other than to put them somewhere safe in b&b for a few days to give them some breathing space.
We supplied them with a tent, sleeping bags, thermals, ground sheet, flasks of hot water and lots of items to help them. The energy now will be to find them suitable accommodation as quickly as possible. Renting a one bedroom flat is so difficult for two people especially young and on benefits. Everyone is so vulnerable and the shortage of affordable housing is also always an issue. It is always important if someone finds themselves homeless to go to the council to tell them. Newbury Soup Kitchen and Erica from West Berkshire Homeless work closely also to help find accommodation. We are asking the local community to help us with affordable rentable rooms or one bedroom accommodation. Deposits are always a difficulty but the Council does have a deposit scheme that can be applied for. Unfortunately the new benefit Universal Credit puts a lot of landlords off and it can take a little bit of time to sort the logistics out and landlords are not always very patient or understandably reticent.
Sue our foot specialist came in this week. She alternates with Kate our hairdresser.
Sue is kind and patient. Many people who come in are embarrassed by the condition or their feet. Sue just sits and has a chat to put people at ease if they need it. This may take a while, but she always manages to relax everyone she works with in order to give the client confidence in her. Two clients went away very happy and will come back and see her in two weeks.
Kate will be in next week to cut hair. In a two-hour session she can do up to 16 people. We keep her supplied with cups of tea. Both of these wonderful ladies do such a fantastic job with the people they help each week. We are so honoured to have them on our team.
We are very pleased to announce that we have expanded the outreach services on a Wednesday afternoon. The sessions now include Community Nurses, Community Dentists and Sovereign Housing who will come and provide tenancy support for Sovereign and other property providers in the area. This support can enable people to get the support and advice with rent arrears, bedroom tax, bidding for properties and house swapping plus many more issues.
These services are all free and have been put in place to help the more vulnerable people in our community. To help people in need find the practical help they need to help make their lives safer and more comfortable.
“The daily grind of life is overshadowed by endless worry about where to stay or sleep. Is it safe? Is it lit? Can I leave all my stuff here if I need to get something to eat? It is exhausting.”