Sunday, 18 December 2011

Homeless numbers rise whilst a million homes stand empty

Vicky had a ten-year heroin and cocaine habit. She was working as a prostitute and carrying out street robberies. “I did anything I could to get my next fix. I’d fallen out with my family, my mum had disowned me and I fell pregnant three times.”

One morning, after a long night in the cold, Vicky stumbled upon the Cathedral Archer Project, a day centre for homeless and vulnerable people in Sheffield. She started going there regularly for breakfast, and soon began to trust the drugs worker who encouraged her to give up her drug habit. Slowly but surely the project seemed to be ‘pulling her out of it’, but Vicky said she ‘kept lapsing back into her old habits’ until November last year. “I woke up one morning and decided I couldn’t take it anymore, so I went on a cold turkey rattle for three weeks. Afterwards I was terrified of going back to the drugs due to boredom, so I asked if I could start volunteering to give me something to do.”

Secret Millionaire

During May this year, Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire TV programme visited The Cathedral Archer Project, along with two other Sheffield charities, Grace Tebbutt House and the Gleadless Valley Community Forum. The programme featured millionaire and former boss of the Priory rehabilitation clinics, Dr Chai Patel, who volunteered as a retired doctor with the charities.

He spent four days volunteering at the Archer Project, helping in their medical centre, in the kitchen and even going ice-skating with clients. Dr Patel later reflected on one of his favourite memories, “A young lady, with an extremely difficult life and huge loss of self-esteem, taught me not only how to skate, but also to trust her not to let me fall - which she didn't.”

This young lady was Vicky, who expressed her gratitude to Dr Patel, not only for the ice skates he bought her, but also for securing the job of Sam Pryor, the charity’s longest-serving project worker. “Sam keeps this place going,” said Vicky.

Dr Patel donated £15,000 to the Archer Project to help run their medical centre over the next three years and £30,000 to secure Sam Pryor’s position.

A client eating breakfast at the Archer Project
Ms Pryor, aged 42, works with a team helping up to 80 homeless and vulnerable people. Everyday the team and volunteers serve breakfast and lunch to whoever walks through the door. They also offer medical treatment, hygiene facilities, education opportunities and advice services.

Tim Renshaw, Chief Executive of the Archer Project said, “We’re taking people off the streets and giving them alternative things to do with their time and alternative futures. So volunteering is a way of getting people to do things differently, seeing if we can change people’s life and expectations.”

Victims of their parents

Dr Patel also donated £25,000 to help Grace Tebbutt House, in Nether Edge. Grace Tebbutt provide temporary homes and support for Sheffield’s most vulnerable women, including ex-offenders.
In an interview after the film was made, Dr Patel reflected, “The most important realisation was how innocent young children become victims of their parents' condition and how they are brought into a way of life over which they have very little control, creating the potential for history to repeat itself.”
Save Grace Tebbutt House
He was so inspired that he returned to Sheffield to launch an official appeal campaign to help raise funds for Grace Tebbutt House. In March 2012, Sheffield City Council will withdraw its £110,000 annual funding for the charity because of spending cuts. Dr Patel appealed to the Sheffield Council to reconsider their decision. He said that the charity saves taxpayers money in the long run because it offers effective support work and accommodation to these vulnerable women.

However, Sheffield City Council’s executive, Richard Webb told The Sheffield Star that they would not reconsider. He said, “Good practice and research highlighted that large accommodation was not conducive to rehabilitation”.

Mrs Harris said that their charity offers a unique service, “Other services won’t accommodate women who are considered as medium or high risk, meaning that they have an uncontrollable drug or alcohol habit and may be verbally abusive to staff.” She said there are many more vulnerable women they could help, “we get enough referrals everyday that we could fill this hostel four times over.”

The Great British property scandal

On 8th December, official figures revealed that homelessness in the UK has risen by 13%. The figures, released by the Department of Communities and Local Government show that 35,680 households in the UK have been accepted as homeless by local authorities at the start of 2011. According to Shelter’s new data search there are 371 households accepted as homeless in South Yorkshire.

Ironically, even as homelessness figures increase, there are one million empty homes in the UK; of which 350,000 have been empty for more than six months. According to George Clarke, architect and TV presenter, “That’s the equivalent of a city the size of Leeds full of empty homes.”

George Clarke’s campaign The Great British Property Scandal, has gained over 100,000 signatures which means that the issue will now be debated in parliament.

The campaign proposes two changes that they hope will give individuals and communities the power to use empty houses:

1. A law change to give people the power to turn abandoned properties into homes for people who need them.

2. Access to low-cost loan funds for people who need financial help to get empty properties back into use.

According to a Freedom of Information request there are 5,068 empty homes in Sheffield and at the same time there are 93,532 people on the housing waiting list.

Something to live for

Grace Tebbutt House and The Cathedral Archer Project say they could help a huge number of homeless people if they were able to turn abandoned properties into homes.

Vicky is now working in the kitchen at the Archer Project and has even started cooking her own meals for the clients. She is hoping to do an NVQ in Catering once she has finished her NVQ in Health and Social Care. “It has given me a goal to aim to, something to live for. I’ve not been in jail for two and half years, which is so unlike me as I was in and out of prison every other month. I’m now talking to my mum and am back in contact with my kids.”

Vicky said that all she used to think about was where the next £20 was coming from for her next bag of heroine and cocaine; but she is a different person now. “I love getting up in the morning, it sounds weird but I can’t wait to go to bed at night, to get up and come here in the morning.”

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