Since 2010 people across the world mark World Homeless Day on the 10th October “to draw attention to homeless people’s needs locally and provide opportunities for the community to get involved in responding to homelessness”. The purpose is to address the plight by educating the public, highlighting local problems and celebrating positive works. There are estimated 100 million people globally who are without a place to live.
This year Caritas Anchor House (CAH), an award winning residential and life-skills centre in London’s Newham, hosted an event in the House of Lords “to encourage society to support the homeless charities working to make a difference”. Its Chief Executive, Keith Fernett, said, “It is only through working together as a community that we can hope to put an end to homelessness”.
As poverty is biting and the number of food banks are on the rise in the capital, homelessness is sadly increasing in the UK; in London alone the number of homeless people reached a staggering 7,581, a 16% rise from last year and more than double in five years!
CAH provides a home and support to over 230 people each year, many of whom have complex needs relating to substance misuse, mental health and domestic abuse. Some of the residents at CAH face complexities that ordinary people can only imagine. Alongside the fantastic transformational services delivered to its residents, be that education and employability, drug rehabilitation or mental health services, CAH’s volunteering programme is enviable.
Every Saturday morning at a church not far from CAH, several of the charity’s residents are found standing proud in their red hoodies, volunteering their time to provide breakfast for those sleeping rough. On Mondays, they help to run a drop-in service, providing a shower and warm clothes, along with advocacy and advice to help people move on from life on the streets. The residents volunteer to help each other with their CVs and job-hunting and striving to make CAH a brighter and more enjoyable place to live. They use their varied skills and talents to welcome people to the facility and help each other on their road to independent living.
The people that CAH supports have suffered significant disadvantages. They have lost their homes for a variety of reasons, such as rising rents, relationship breakdowns and family bereavements. In CAH they find friends, family and a purpose in life. They develop their skills and improve their future prospects by helping others improve theirs. This is a unique model that focuses not only on helping people gain employment and move on to independent living, but creates active citizens within the community. Their success can be attributed to this ethos of self help and mutual support. It tackles the root cause of the problem and places emphasis on the heart of the individual. They know they are part of the solution, not just for their own wellbeing, but for others.
CAH has been in high demand for many years. In 2014 it received 560 referrals for its 118 bedrooms – almost five per room. The number of residents with complex needs is also rising. Evidence suggests that the longer someone is in this position, the more difficult it can become for them to get back on their feet. As someone’s problems become complex, anti-social behaviour, involvement with the criminal justice system and acute NHS services become more likely. What is really significant is that the outcomes for use of those services are often very poor and the cost is far greater.
However, just a small intervention can make a big difference in someone’s life. A small spark of kindness or inspiration can result in a huge impact. A smile and a warm greeting can brighten a person’s day. And so despite the difficulties they face, one can take heart in the work of CAH. The care, respect and dignity CAH show to their residents are passed on through the actions of those they help. By simply giving their time and compassion, as CAH’s residents so brilliantly do, they help the hundreds of homeless and disadvantaged people living in London.
An organisation’s success depends on the vision, integrity and competence of those who run it. CAH has been able to create a virtuous circle because of the synergy and dedication between its staff and residents.
I have worked with charities and community groups across East London, known for its social deprivation but amazing resilience, for many years now. It is an area of constant change, but its great community spirit overrides the challenges it faces. Volunteering is the key; it is the pillar of civic responsibility for any society. Nowhere else is this more true than at Caritas Anchor House. Based in the heart of an economically deprived community, it has so far displayed a shining example of a sense of care, creativity and compassion.Tags: charity giving homeless