Rough sleeping
Rough sleeping

Newbury CLP member Gemma Lowe discusses her involvement with the West Berkshire Homeless organisation.

When I was asked to write a short piece for the newsletter I didn’t know how I would condense what has been happening in our area into a short article.

I am sure that we have all noticed, walking through the town centres of other towns, the occasional homeless person or Big Issue seller. Have you noticed it’s happening in Newbury and the surrounding areas too? Maybe our minds are just adjusted to assuming this is the ‘norm’ of how life is, but I and a close group of like-minded people believe that, in a first world country in the 21st century, this is wrong.

West Berkshire Homeless (Newbury) is a start-up association that has been formed, funded and will be managed by a group of people that cannot idly sit by while members of our community sleep rough. WBH has two core aims – the first to build a shelter to give the homeless refuge in the winter months. The second aim is to assist back into work and accommodation those that are willing and able to do so. As a collective, we have acknowledged that not every person wants or will accept help, and many without homes suffer substance abuse or medical issues that cannot simply be helped by pulling some strings with accommodation and working environments.

WBH has made great efforts to identify both the homeless community in the areas but also the charities and support groups also in operation that try to help the less fortunate in the community. WBH are proud to be collaborating with the Newbury Soup Kitchen, Loose Ends and the Salvation Army.

Since establishing, and it should be noted charity status is pending with the Charity Commission, the group have been able to home 12 individuals that had been or were about to be living out on our streets. Each of those people has now got employment and are being mentored into managing their own money to ensure that they can survive between pay cheques.

The night shelter has been a challenge, but the people at WBH relish a challenge or 20! Originally the team wished to build a night shelter with common facilities to allow other charity and support groups to access it during the day for those in our community with issues that required specialist help. We now call this a Shelter. We are exploring different avenues to achieve this such as obtaining a current building, building new premises and establishing links with others to achieve this aim. What did become very apparent in our short time as a team is that a permanent solution would not be in place by our goal of October 2017, when the chill comes in the air. So we strategised.

We are not too proud a group to say we need help, and that is what we did. We reached out to all religious groups in the area and asked if they would open their doors until we get a our solution in place. After a few meetings, some said yes. We are now in the process of navigating the council’s red tape, but we have asked for the purpose of the Salvation Army to be amended to allow for 13 people to have shelter, should they want it. At this stage this is the only update I can provide, but I hope in the next month to say we have achieved this or I could be asking you all for help.

Lots of people have two questions when they hear that I am involved with WBH. The first is “how can we get involved?” There are multiple ways you can help – follow us on Twitter ‘@WberksHomeless’, or give us a like on our Facebook group ‘West Berkshire Homeless’ and there you will see news, events and requests being posted. We are hesitating until we have the full legal status to ask for donations, but if people wish to do so we now have a bank account to receive funds. When we get the night shelter established we will need funds and volunteers that can come and help out. We need people trained and experienced in working with vulnerable adults to help us make this a success.

The next question I get asked is “why aren’t the council doing something about this?” and there are many answers to this. These include funding cuts, full hostels (Two Saints), back logs in administration and the struggle to find people who not only understand the system, but have the time to guide people through it.  I am a degree educated woman who works in Internal Audit and part of my job is defining end to end processes and following them, and this perplexes me. So if this is something you can do, get in touch.

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