Less than a week ago, we started a petition to try and encourage the local authority to open up disused retail units in Southend Town Centre for rough sleepers during the cold winter months.
There has now been a response from Southend Borough Council, the Southend CWNS and the local service for the homeless HARP – the latter has also addressed the petition directly.
HARP’s Chief Executive, Gill Garwood, says:
“It’s been wonderful to see over 10,000 people show their support for homeless people in Southend this week by signing Southend Bible’s petition asking for more empty shop spaces to be used as shelters over the winter months.
“At HARP, we believe that no one should be sleeping rough in this day and age. On 29th November, the Southend Churches Winter Night Shelters will open their doors to give local homeless people a safe and warm place to sleep throughout the winter months.
“We are proud to be part of this partnership with local churches and Southend Borough Council, which provides up to 20 extra places to sleep for people who are homeless. We hope this will come as good news to those who have signed the petition, who might not be aware of this service that has undoubtedly saved lives throughout the winter months.
“The churches provide a fantastic temporary provision, especially during the coldest months of the year – much like utilising empty shop spaces would too. However, to really make an impact people need permanent housing and that’s what we’re continually working on at HARP.
“Everyone that stays at the churches has an action plan, so that HARP can work with them on an ongoing basis with an aim to them moving in to their own home in the long term. Last year, 54% of those who stayed at the churches did not return to the streets by the close of the season.
“Of those that unfortunately didn’t find a place to stay, many of them took positive steps in the right direction. This year, with the help of the churches and the council, we are aiming to improve on this, and ensure that more people who stay at the churches don’t have to resort to rough sleeping when they close after the winter.
“We currently house up to 174 people, who would otherwise be homeless. Each resident has a keyworker who helps them to access support and advice so that they can overcome any issues that might surround their homelessness situation. We also help people learn new skills, access educational courses and find a home of their own.
“Our work is only possible thanks to the amazing support we get from our local community, so thank you to everyone who has helped us provide the best possible support to local people taking steps towards overcoming homelessness for good.”
The responses from those within Southend Borough Council discuss homelessness in general, without there being a direct response to the petition.
Having said this, it was addressed in the print edition on the Southend Echo on Wednesday 15th November.
An image of the article is below.
20 extra places to sleep for local homeless people this winter
HARP, Love Southend and Southend Borough Council have once again teamed up to provide somewhere for homeless people in Southend to sleep through the winter months.
The partnership was set up in 2011, in response to the growing number of rough sleepers who found themselves with nowhere to go in the bitter winter months.
Now in its seventh season, the Southend Churches Winter Night Shelters will add 20 extra bed spaces per night as seven churches across Southend open their doors for one night a week each from 29th November to 20th March.
Last year, 54% of the people who stayed at the churches did not return to the streets by the time the Shelters closed for the season.
Even for those who were unable to find accommodation, positive steps were taken with 18 being signposted to treatment services, 10 to group therapy and 6 to a local GP.
This was seen as a fantastic success by everyone involved.
This year, the partnership will continue to give people staying at the churches the best possible chance of beating homelessness by helping them to address any issues that might be surrounding their homelessness through the development of a personalised action plan.
The partnership is encouraging anyone who has become homeless or is at risk of homelessness to go to HARP’s Bradbury Centre, a warm and safe place for them to recover from the harsh reality of living on the streets.
Each individual who walks through the doors will sit down with a team member from HARP to discuss their situation.
Depending on their needs and what is available, HARP may be able to offer them a bed space in one of their hostels.
In the winter months, thanks to the generosity and hard work of the participating churches and their volunteers, the number of spaces available increases by 20 each night.
Co-Ordinator of the Churches Winter Night Shelters, John Simmons, said:
“I have been the Co-Ordinator of the Southend Churches Winter Night Shelters since we started 7 winters ago. We have provided a hot meal, a bed and breakfast to over 100 guests every winter, and I would like to thank everyone involved in hosting and running the Shelters, and volunteering at them.
“We anticipate more guests this winter than ever before, so everybody’s continued hard work in helping them is incredibly valued. Volunteers are always welcome, especially those who are willing to stay overnight.
“It is a great joy to see guests move forward in their lives, with many getting help from HARP, the Council and other agencies. Some of them take major steps towards beating their addictions, whilst others are able to come off the streets and find housing.
“We are very pleased to be able to participate in this rewarding partnership.”
HARP’s Service Operations Manager, Gary Turner, added:
]“The Church Winter Night Shelters are a great opportunity for people to be safe, secure and warm, whilst also engaging with us to move their lives forward.
“We are very proud to be part of this partnership, which has become a vital service for local homeless people over the winter months. After the success of last year, it is great to continue to collaborate and evolve together so that we can ensure that vulnerable people in Southend are receiving the best possible support to help them now, whilst ultimately working towards a life away from the streets.”
Cllr Mark Flewitt, Executive Councillor for Housing, says:
“The winter night shelters help ensure people can access food, shelter and companionship and are absolutely vital in our bid to keep rough sleepers off the streets during the coldest months of the year.
“We are therefore very pleased to help fund and plan this much needed service again this year, thanks to our strong partnership with the Love Southend faith group and HARP. Not only does this project provide much needed shelter, it also enables us all to provide further support, treatment, and help where we can, and in many cases get people off the streets for good. I must thank everyone involved in this great scheme.”
All the Shelters need volunteers (especially overnight). If you would like to get involved, please contact John Simmons at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will try and get a response from other local homelessness organisations in due course.