‘Everyone needs somewhere to belong’: Homeless charity worker on challenges and making a difference

April 16, 2018
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“It’s not all sunshine and roses, it’s very challenging but it’s the best job in the world.”

For the past six years Cath Stamper has worked around the clock to provide vital support to Woking‘s most vulnerable residents.

The chief executive of the York Road Project, an organisation which provides emergency and long term accommodation to the homeless, has spoken out over the challenges her dedicated team face, funding cuts and the rise in demand in recent years.

The team of only 10 permanent workers has seen increased numbers young people asking for help, women who have fallen into homelessness and substance abuse.

Meanwhile, around 70% of the charity’s clients have mental health challenges – an issue exacerbated by central government cuts to services, the experienced support worker told Get Surrey.

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Homelessness in Surrey

‘It can happen to anyone’

“Historically, I think people think leafy Surrey doesn’t have a homeless situation and for many years there were probably lower numbers,” Cath said.

“It can happen to anybody, we have someone in the shelter who has a full time job… we have had everything from bankers to care leavers – it’s scary.

“A lot of providers will only give one chance, we don’t believe in that. If you say no repeatedly, it just reinforces that sense of abandonment that no one cares.”

The charity which dates back to the early 1990s, is the county’s “only true direct access night shelter”, said Cath.

York Road Project is based in Goldsworth Road, Woking
(Image: Surrey Advertiser)

This means it will open its doors to anyone who comes knocking – without a referral.

“We stay very true to the core criteria we set up with,” she continued.

“We are really the only true direct access night shelter now, which means if you rock up at our door at 9.30pm and we have a vacancy, we will give you a bed.”

The charity, based in Goldsworth Road, also offers a day centre, life skills workshops, a dedicated “front line” outreach team and five “moving on” flats.

The properties, one of which is in Waverley, are based on “staggered support” and range from “complex needs flats” to “medium support” to independent living.

‘Busiest year ever’

As temperatures plummeted this winter, homelessness became a hot topic in national media. Cath said the cold months were the charity’s busiest time on record.

“We had our busiest year ever,” she said. “One night this year we had 70 additional sleepers over 62 nights – this is the most we have ever had and it killed the staff.

“You get obsessed with the weather.

“We didn’t have a death and people have the right to refuse shelter, then the fear is death and we have the outreach team up out at the crack of dawn checking on them.”

Changing demographic

“There has been a rise in demand and what we have also seen is the demographic of the client group changing,” said Cath.

“Six years ago the primary age of our clients was 35 to 44 and now it is 25 to 34 with an increasing number of 18 to 25s. They are harder to house because there is less provision for younger people, they tend to be a lot more chaotic.

“There has been a break down in a family unit, the pressure on parents or single parents to work can mean kids don’t have the structure in their lives… I think there is an element of that.

“I absolutely believe everyone has the ability and power in their lives to make changes – we see it all of the time,” said Cath Stamper
(Image: Isabel Dobinson)

“It’s so difficult the benefits system, it is set up for our client group to fail… I understand people think they should have jobs but come and live their lifestyle, I don’t think I’d last a day.”

She added: “There has also been a rise in females, at the moment it is 22% and can go as high as 25%. There is a lot less female accommodation because in the past it has been a lot more men.”

Mental health and budget cuts

Mental health is the biggest challenge rough sleepers face, said Cath.

“Definitely, the primary cause is mental health, it is more visible because the support has reduced because of cuts,” she said.

“I would suggest around 70% of our client group have had some kind of trauma throughout their life, not just childhood abuse but domestic violence, bereavement, parental substance misuse, sometimes foster care.

“They can’t deal with it because they have no where to live, you can’t deal with your issues if you are living under a bush.

“It’s very challenging but it’s the best job in the world,” said chief executive, Cath Stamper
(Image: Surrey Advertiser)

“We have everything here from depression and anxiety to personality disorders and everything in between. With the guys, it can be difficult to admit it.”

The rise in mental health challenges among the charity’s client group means workers often find themselves in unpredictable situations.

“We are not qualified mental health workers,” said Cath.

“We sometimes have to deal with very challenging behaviour, add substance issues into that and you potentially have a volatile situation, or you have someone crying on the floor threatening to kill themselves.”

Despite being given funding to launch a mental health specialist unit more than a year ago, the charity has been unable to hire a mental health practitioner.

Cath argues this is due to budget cuts and staffing shortages.

She added that due to ongoing central government cuts, many of the homeless clients “no longer fit the criteria” for statutory help.

This comes after an overwhelming majority of Surrey county councillors voted in favour of the new budget, which included savings of almost £19 million in its adult social care budget.

‘It’s very challenging’

“You need to be a social worker, a police officer, a mental health worker, a doctor, a dogsbody, you need to be all of those things,” said Cath.

“I value my staff… it is a soul destroying, horrible job at times. It pushes you to the limits, most of the team work well above their hours.

“It’s not all sunshine and roses, it’s very challenging but it’s the best job in the world, absolutely.

York Road Project is based in Goldsworth Road, Woking
(Image: Surrey Advertiser)

“What we do is make a difference with those people we have contact with every second of every day.

“We care and I certainly care very deeply for each and every one of them. We all need somewhere to belong.”

She added: “I absolutely believe everyone has the ability and power in their lives to make changes and we see it all of the time.”

It’s not all ‘doom and gloom’

York Road Project relies on the generosity of the Woking community, including funding from Surrey County Council, Woking Borough Council, Waverley Borough Council and Guildford Borough Council.

“To balance the doom and gloom, I think we are really lucky,” Cath said.

“Woking and Waverley [borough councils] support us a lot – partnership work across the area is very important.

“The community as a whole generally has a very positive relationship with us, we are very proactive in replying to any concerns the community has.

“Businesses sometimes come in with cake after work, a local curry house provides curry once a month, we have old people who come in.”

Cath added that the team regularly clear up mess in the surrounding areas, including in the nearby car park.

Their hard work paid off one day when car park employees gave the charity all of the money picked up from the building’s floor – a sum which mounted to more than £700.

“It’s getting harder to operate, however the support we receive is phenomenal,” said Cath.

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Article source: https://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/surrey-news/everyone-needs-somewhere-belong-homeless-14524018


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