‘I’ve lost my self confidence. I’ve been bullied and beaten up. I’ve hit rock bottom’. Just some of the thoughts and experiences shared by Sheffield’s homeless.
They might be sleeping rough, sofa surfing or seeking safety in a refuge. The emotions and difficulties caused by losing the roof over their heads are often similar – but the things that lead to such situations are very different and complex.
That’s where Sheffield’s range of charities and support agencies come in. If you find yourself homeless you can turn to any number of caring organisations.
Thirty-year-old Dave did just that when he ended up homeless after splitting up with his girlfriend. After 12 nights on the streets he was referred by police to Sheffield homeless charity the Cathedral Archer Project.
It was cold, wet and lonely. A minute seemed like an hour. I was sleeping in a car park near the Hallamshire Hospital
He said: “I split up with my partner. I was living at her house. My family live abroad so I didn’t have anywhere to go. I had never heard of the project. The police told me about it when I begged them to lock me up.
“It’s amazing how many things there are here. And though I’m still on my own in a little room it’s like a massive weight’s been lifted, because I know I’m moving up.”
The Archer Project told Dave to get in touch with the rough sleeper service run by Turning Point, a social enterprise focused on improving lives and communities.
“Turning Point has been brilliant,” he said. “If it wasn’t for them I don’t know what would have happened.
“The 12 nights were horrible. It was cold, wet and lonely. It was long. A minute seemed like an hour. I was sleeping in a car park near the Hallamshire Hospital.
“I don’t think anyone knew I was homeless. There’s a lot of people like me in that situation. All you would think if you walked past me is that I needed a shave and a haircut.”
Thanks to the Archer Project, Dave has been able to use the internet and phone and get food and a shower. He has clean clothes. His aim is to get back into permanent housing and start working again.
“I lost my job when I split up with my partner,” he said. “But I know I will be able to get a job again. Six months from now this will just be a memory. I’ve hit rock bottom. I can’t go any lower, there’s only one way back.”
Becky, aged 34, was in an abusive relationship. She ended up homeless after running away from her partner.
“I got scared and went straight to housing and they referred me to a women’s refuge for my own safety,” she said.
“They offer support workers to make sure of your safety. Your name is in police records so if you go missing they will find you.
“I was happy and tearful when I arrived. I have been staying there nine months. I’m getting my own home on Monday. I’ve had my ups and downs. I used to self-harm and I still do because I’m scared. You lose contact with your friends and family.”
Andy Parfrement has been working at the Archer Project for several years and has dealt with people with all sorts of complex needs and backgrounds. But he treats them all with compassion. “It’s all about keeping people’s dignity,” he said.
“Giving them basic essentials that every human being should have.
“I have been working here for some years and I still see some people that I have known for years. But that doesn’t mean that they are still in the same situation and nothing’s improved. Some people we might refer to another agency and they don’t need us anymore.”
Anyone who comes to the Archer Project goes through an interview process to figure out their history. The charity’s CEO Tim Renshaw said: “People who find themselves homeless are not living a very happy or fulfilling life. Our work is to see how we can change that and offer people different opportunities, from the basics of accommodation to building a life which contains the things most of us enjoy. We do quite a lot of work with people to achieve that.
“Some of these people are in a really quite dire situation. There’s a complexity. Not only have they lost accommodation, but it’s not easy to get back in because of issues like drugs, alcohol, crime and debts.
“We now do a lot of work with other agencies to try to get rid of these barriers and make sure people have got a future.
“No matter how difficult someone’s situation seems to be, there’s a willingness to help people to move up and to provide for people.”
With all the will and compassion in the world, getting someone out of homelessness is rarely straightforward.
Tim said: “It isn’t always easy to get someone long-term rough sleeping into accommodation, but there is a willingness in Sheffield to try to remove these barriers. We don’t do a lot of outreach work so a lot is dependent on people coming to us.
“But we also are targeting to engage some of those people we know who are persistent and repeatedly homeless with a number of complexities. That’s not about a quick fix. It’s about trying to put in the support around that person with other agencies so we can make a longer-term positive impact.
“We are dealing with people who have gained a mindset that actually they don’t matter any more in the society we have created.”
There are plenty of organisations addressing long-term problems, such as street drinker sanctuary Ben’s Centre, and the Big Issue, which aims to give homeless people a job and a sense of routine.
But short-term issues like hunger are also a problem. This is where community-minded businesses and individuals come in.
Pending Coffee is a scheme which allows visitors to participating cafes to pay for a drink or snack for a homeless person. Jennie Swift set up the scheme in Sheffield, and now has about 10 businesses taking part.
The aim is twofold: firstly to provide food and drink, but secondly and more importantly, to give people a hint of a normal life again.
Jennie said: “The Archer Project is fantastic but a lot of homeless people are intimidated by the possibility of conflict with others. They may want to be seen as someone who’s not homeless.
“When they walk into one of our cafes no-one knows if they are homeless. It’s taking them out so they can be themselves and not that label. It’s about normal conversation. They can have conversations about things that are happening in the world. They are so isolated, and we can just try to influence a couple of people to step out of that dark place that they are in and inspire them in some way or give them conversation and comfort.”
To join Pending Coffee e-mail Jennie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another trying to do his bit is Totley resident Anthony Cunningham. He has taken it upon himself to help the city’s vulnerable and wants to set up a respite shelter for the homeless.
He has an online crowdfunding page but to give his project an extra boost he has set up a fund and awareness-raising event.
Working with his friend Damian Davis, known as ‘King Kev’, who runs Caribbean Spice in London Road, Anthony will host Food Lovers at the Curzon cinema on May 21. For a £35 ticket, guests will get a night of food and entertainment. They will get a voucher for Caribbean Spice, which they are encouraged to give to a homeless person.
To buy a ticket call Anthony on 07824 648585, or go to Sa-Kis in Division Street or Caribbean Spice in London Road. You can support Anthony’s project at crowdfunding.justgiving.com/the-peoples-charity.
Sheffield Council also has an online advice sheet for homelessness.