Understanding homelessness in our communityIt seemed appropriate, that as temperatures plummet below freezing and winter sets in, that Marlborough Area Board should be discussing the problems of homelessness in Marlborough and the wider Wiltshire community.
Sarah Johnson, who is an Assertive Outreach Worker with Wiltshire Council, Daniel Cavender, who has himself been homeless, and Sue Elks of Marlborough Poverty Action Group addressed Marlborough Area Board meeting on Tuesday 28 November in Marlborough Town Hall.
Sarah, who has been in the job a year is currently working with eighty two homeless people county wide. And so far she has managed to house seventeen.
“I come across people on a daily basis who are struggling, those who had a house and a job but have lost it all. The biggest problem is that many of those who are sleeping rough have lost their trust in professional services,” she said.
Many of those with whom Sarah have mental health issues and/or are suffering from alcohol or drug abuse. However, each individual case is different and must be treated as such.
As well as offering a listening ear Sarah helps them access the benefits system, register with a GP, engage with the substance abuse service and accompanies them to the housing offices. She also works with the probation service.
“It takes a while and it takes a lot of patience but I will work with them for as long as it takes.”
Many of those who are homeless have no ID. Without ID and address it is not possible to open a bank account and since benefits are paid into a bank account, not possible to receive benefits.
“It seems that bureaucracy makes life as difficult as possible for those who are struggling the most. The key thing is for people to know who to contact for help.”
Daniel Cavender has had real life experience of living on the streets. He recognizes how difficult it is to engage with the homeless. “When I was homeless I didn’t really want any help. When you are homeless making even simple decisions is difficult. You pick up ways of how to survive. It is quite a brutal process and it takes time.”
Based on his own experience and through speaking to other homeless people Daniel believes a powerful way to help would be to create a homeless survival manual, an app and a website. This would make life-saving advice easily accessible. It would be a way of getting information to people who want to help themselves as well as giving help to people who want to help someone.
Sue Elks of Marlborough Area Poverty Action Group (MAPAG) knows the rough sleepers in Marlborough by name. There are currently two, one who camps in a tent and another who doesn’t want any help at present.
However, there are many more ‘wayfarers’, as Sue calls them, passing through the town on a regular basis. MAPAG has some funds to provide new sleeping bags, thermos flasks, rucksacks as well as warm clothes and washing facilities. Mustard Seed will provide hot refreshments and St George’s Church opens all day to provide shelter. The Trussell Trust Foodbank operates every Friday in Christchurch, Marlborough.
James Sheppard, chair of the Marlborough Board, thanked Sarah, Daniel and Sue for their informative, if sobering addresses.