Sheffield Church Action on Poverty was recently involved in an event that brought together local politicians, council and community leaders and charities to look at a key issue confronting the city.
Tim Renshaw, chief executive of the Sheffield Cathedral Archer Project, the city centre-based charity which supports homeless people, spoke at Sheffield Church Action on Poverty’s annual Civic Breakfast. Mr Renshaw told guests organisations helping homeless people need to develop new ways of assessing and providing for individual needs which recognise the person themselves holds the answer to escaping their current problems.
“We must see the person in front of us is the key, has the assets and ask ourselves how can we use that to help them find the strength to move forward. It is about involvement and creating a sense of belonging; getting us as a city to commit to using an evidence-based approach and seriously thinking differently about homelessness and the routes out of homelessness.”
Mr Renshaw criticised those who claimed many of the homeless had “chosen” to be homeless, citing the experience of one homeless person he had met who had described being on the streets was “probably their best option at that time.” Homelessness as the best of a set of bad options was “very different from ‘choosing’ to be on the streets,” said Mr Renshaw, adding that there was a growing body of evidence that showed some form of trauma in earlier life had contributed to homelessness among as many as two thirds of those on the streets.
Trauma in earlier life is known to affect the development of an individual’s body and brain and make people more susceptible to substance abuse, alcoholism and suffering diseases, including cancer. The trauma of becoming homeless re-enforced the effects of that earlier experience, increasing feelings of rejection by and isolation from society and increasing the things people felt they could no longer cope with, Mr Renshaw said.
Ben Keegan, chief executive of Roundabout, the charity that provides shelter, support and life skills for homeless young people, said the problem of young people sleeping rough in Sheffield is getting worse. And, he appealed for someone to come forward willing to sell land in the Granville area for a new facility to house homeless under-25 year olds.
Roundabout had the funds to buy the land and an offer to build the house, but had not been able to find the land.
Tracey Ford, from Sheffield City Council’s Drug, Alcohol and Domestic Abuse Team, spoke about Help Us Help, an organisation run by local charities, the city council, a residents group and other services.
Help Us Help encourages people to get involved in helping people who beg and sleep rough in Sheffield. Ms Ford praised the work that was going on with rough sleepers that often went un-noticed by the public at large.
People could become disheartened if their offers of assistance were rejected by homeless people but it was important to keep trying as there could be a point in the future when the same individual would be ready to respond.
Robert Carrack spoke about the work of Chesterfield Night Shelter, which had brought together a number of churches to offer food and basic accommodation to homeless people between the start of December and the end of March, with financial backing from local authorities.
“A hundred guests have accessed the Shelter and we served over 1,000 meals. Of those guests, 23 have been housed by local services, eight moved in with friends and we believe a total of 65 have moved on to somewhere, instead of being on the streets,” said Mr Carrack. A total of 170 volunteers and 10 staff provided the service which had not only helped rough sleepers but also others who, for one reason or other, had found themselves without a roof for the night.