I am walking along listening to music on my phone, thinking about where I am going, walking past other people also going about their daily lives. Then I walk through an underpass. I cannot help but spot there is a bundle of blankets ahead and I can see someone huddled up inside. Not surprisingly there is an empty coffee cup beside the blankets to receive a few coins if I, or anyone else, wants to donate. It is very discrete; no verbal request for money from the person to me or other passers-by. It is left to me to engage or just keep walking on.
I have walked past many other pedestrians and not once have I, or they, done anything other than walk past each other. It would be strange if I said “hello” to everyone I walk past in the street. So why should the person huddled in the blankets be treated any differently?
Everyone else just seems to ignore the person and walk on by. So maybe I should do the same? I could think that the person may be drunk or on drugs, so if I were to approach them, it could be dangerous. Or maybe they have mental health issues, so could put my safety at risk. After all, surely there are agencies to help such individuals? And I surely cannot be expected to give money to everyone I see in need. What if they use the money for drink or drugs? My kindness would then harm the person I see. Very soon I can come up with a whole number of reasons in my mind to walk past and somehow justify in my thinking that I have done the right thing.
The person in the blankets gradually becomes ‘invisible’. They are regarded as an object to walk around. They are ignored as if they do not exist. Imagine how it must feel to be that person? Life has gone wrong in so many ways that they find themselves on the street with no home. Then when in that rock bottom situation, they are ignored by everyone.
I do decide to approach the person. When I stop I see it is a man probably in his late 40s. We begin to chat and I find his name is Paul. He quickly asks me for some money, but I decline. I offer to buy him a sandwich or coffee (which I know would cost me far more than £1, and take more of my time than dropping a coin in his empty coffee cup). He declines. I offer him a hand wipe in a sealed packet (I carry these for just such a situation). Paul looks surprised, and accepts the offer. There is that moment when I hand it to him and he gratefully takes it from me. It is a connection that moves Paul from being ‘invisible’ to real.
I stay hunched down and we begin to chat more. Paul is happy to share some of his story with me. His marriage broke down when he lost his job as a shop-fitter. He has not seen his thirteen-year-old son for a couple of years now and that really breaks his heart. His ex-wife and son have moved house, but Paul does not know where they now live. Paul was never good at managing money so he was eventually evicted from his flat due to rent arrears. He cannot return to rented property until he has paid his arrears, which he cannot now afford, so is stuck. His only choice now is to sleep on the streets. And that is where he has been for the last year.
Paul has reached the point where he feels life is hopeless and without any other choice than to remain homeless. The point of hopelessness is one of the most isolating experiences anyone can find themselves.
In York, the Salvation Army have a team to engage with rough sleepers such as Paul. There are options available. There are hostels to accommodate those who find themselves without a home. Through the City of York Council Single Access Point, a referral can be made to Restore York. We have 11 properties where we provide supported housing.
Restore does not just provide a house to live in, we treat everyone as an individual and want to help them in their journey forward, starting wherever they find themselves. We provide each of our residents a dedicated support worker who will meet them on a weekly basis or more often. We help each resident with a range of life skills to equip them to independent community living and increase their employability where that is appropriate. No two residents have the same journey, but we work with each based on their individual needs and at a pace suitable for them. For some the journey takes months, for others it takes years.
Once residents are ready to move on, we help them apply for a council rental. When that is successful, we help them move in and assist them to furnish their new accommodation. We also offer them a further 6 months of support. We help set up regular payments to prevent rent arrears and ensure they have everything needed to maintain their new tenancy for the longer term.
As a CEO, I may have less direct interaction with our residents, but I can see how dedicated my team of support workers and their manager are. They do an amazing job. Please check out our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/RestoreYork/ to get regular updates on what we do.
If you would like to support our work, please click on the link https://www.restoreyork.co.uk/donate/ . If you cannot give, perhaps you could sign up to our newsletter https://www.restoreyork.co.uk/contact/ or become Facebook friends? I would love for your to be part of our journey with our residents.
Thanks for reading. If you already support us, a BIG thank you!!!
Restore York CEO