Jon O’Neill is our Client Support Manager working mainly from our Bolsover centre. Here is his story on the hidden homeless.
In December 2015 Freedom received a large donation of tents, sleeping bags, thermal and warm clothing, rucksacks etc. for distribution to homeless people in the area. As of the end of February we have one set of a tent and sleeping bag left.
Recently, I was concerned that one of our clients, who has multiple problems, had gone missing from our drop in café. I asked his friends if they had seen him, but they hadn’t. So I had a wander around Bolsover on a Sunday night to see if I could find him. I didn’t. I did find a young man sleeping under a hedge on Hornscroft Park, another sleeping rough on some empty land behind a building in the middle of Bolsover, and heard of another sleeping in a derelict garage on the “Wimps” which had no doors and half a roof.
According to the official figures we have no homeless in Bolsover. In 2015 Freedom worked with 38 local people who are homeless, in unsecured temporary accommodation, or are ‘sofa surfing’. On any one night there may be as many as 6-12 people who have no roof over their head when they go to sleep just in our little patch of Bolsover.
You don’t see homeless people because they hide. If they can be seen their few possessions can be damaged, and in a few cases burned. They themselves can be attacked, and that has happened in Bolsover. People do not choose to become homeless but their circumstances and often low self worth lead to them becoming homeless. If nobody recognises that we have any homeless then somebody does not have to do anything about the problem. Yes, they can be difficult to work with, challenging even, but they are still people who need our help.
It is frustrating work because legislation passed by parliament in 2003 redefined homelessness. It means that even if you are homeless, you have no roof over your head; you are in law not homeless! Trying to help people with multiple issues and problems, who have no stability such as a home is difficult. Particularly when we are told they are not homeless and do not meet certain criteria to be classed as homeless. The stability of having a secure home is the foundation to addressing the other problems they face. Being told they are not homeless when they clearly are just reinforces their own low opinion of themselves. It strengthens their view that they are incapable of making positive changes in their lives.
We worked with one person last year who was homeless, she had lived on the streets on and off for seven years, since she was 14.
In April the government are making further cuts to enhanced housing benefit which will make it even harder to provide secure and supported accommodation for homeless people.
We have no homeless in Bolsover, just the people who have nowhere to sleep tonight, and there are more of them than you realise.
The Freedom Community Project helps people with a variety of issues, including homelessness. We need your support to continue to help our work with the hidden homeless within our communities.
contact the office for more information.