‘Ashamed, embarrassed, numb... and a sense of hopelessness’

Caption: (l-r) Suzy Brain England (chair of Sheffield BID), Paul Blomfield MP, Tim Renshaw (CEO of Archer Project), Bobbie Walker (Street Pastor), Thomas Walker (Amy Winehouse Foundation)
Caption: (l-r) Suzy Brain England (chair of Sheffield BID), Paul Blomfield MP, Tim Renshaw (CEO of Archer Project), Bobbie Walker (Street Pastor), Thomas Walker (Amy Winehouse Foundation)
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Ashamed, embarrassed, numb and a sense of 
hopelessness.

This is how 56-year-old Thomas Walker describes being homeless and begging on the streets.

Thomas Walker from the Amy Winehouse Foundation

Thomas Walker from the Amy Winehouse Foundation

He managed to turn his life around and has now backed a new campaign launched to tackle the growing problem of homelessness in Sheffield.

Charities, police, business leaders, politicians and outreach workers have pledged to work closer together to help those living rough on the city streets.

The Help us Help campaign aims to give people in Sheffield a greater understanding of the situation of homelessness in the city.

The campaign also hopes to provide clear options of how people’s money, if they want to donate, can be best used to support the homeless.

Thomas now works for the Amy Winehouse Foundation, a charity named after the late pop star, which helps prevent drug and alcohol misuse in young people.

He travels around schools in Sheffield and South Yorkshire speaking to children about his experiences and warning about the dangers of drink and drugs.

Thomas started sleeping rough on the streets aged 32 and later became addicted to drugs.

He said: “When you’re on the streets you have this huge sense of hopelessness. I couldn’t see how it could get better at times.

“Also with begging, when you’re asking people for change or whatever, it’s really embarrassing. I felt so ashamed.

“But after a while you become numb to it. A lot of people think homeless people who ask for money on the street want it for drugs or booze or cigarettes but people are genuinely hungry.”

Thomas enrolled into rehab in Sheffield and started to get his life back on track. He gained qualifications and landed a job working with the foundation.

“After all that time, I realised I wasn’t stupid and I did have skills that I didn’t know I had.”

Tim Renshaw, CEO of the Cathedral Archer project, a charity that offers a safe haven for people living on the streets, is also backing the campaign.

He said: “This is the biggest problem we’ve faced in terms of street presence in Sheffield for a number of years – it is on the rise. There are lots of reasons why people become homeless – everyone’s situation is different.

“We already work with different bodies but this campaign will hopefully put this important issue in the spotlight and make people aware of what they can do and what services to refer people to.”

Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield, at the launch to support the campaign, said: “The increase in homelessness and rough sleeping was an issue that came up repeatedly during my recent community consultation.

“People often feel unsure about the best way to help those on the streets, so I’m really pleased this campaign is being launched.

“Help us to Help will empower people to take positive action to transform the lives of vulnerable and marginalised people in our city.”

Coun Jayne Dunn, cabinet member for housing at Sheffield Council, who attended the campaign launch, said: “We have a wealth of experienced charities who have these skills and are proven to deliver positive results for those on the street.

“Help us Help will enable the public to understand more and hopefully will motivate them to volunteer or donate to our charities and voluntary services.”