Not Just Homeless at Christmas
Doorway, the North Wiltshire drop-in centre for single people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, has recorded that up to 7 of its 35 regular guests are sleeping rough in and around Chippenham.
Homelessness is largely an invisible problem in rural areas like North Wiltshire. Unlike the big cities, rough sleepers are rarely seen, but Doorway has found that currently guests are sleeping in tents in the woods and in a public car park.
People finding themselves without a roof in Chippenham are often taken in by friends and allowed to sleep on the floor or find themselves ‘sofa-surfing’ rather than remain on the streets. These are the ‘Hidden Homeless’ of North Wiltshire.
The situation fluctuates, and it is common for guests to move frequently between friends’ or relatives’ homes with periods of rough sleeping. Of the 80 new guests this year who gave us details, 20 were living outdoors when they first approached us.
Most guests of the Doorway centre have complex needs including physical and mental health issues, substance use, debt, poor education and life skills. Homelessness is likely to exacerbate existing problems and generate new ones, making it harder for homeless single people to acquire and sustain a tenancy of their own. The consequence is that as time goes by many homeless adults are less likely to sustain a tenancy even when they reach the top of the housing waiting list.
Manager, Margaret Cleverley, said “Doorway helps with basic human needs – a hot meal, a chance to have a shower and wash your clothes; a friendly place to relax, replace a wet sleeping bag or just change your socks. We are open to guests two days a week, closing only for public holidays in order to give staff and volunteers a break. Unlike charities that only open at Christmas, Doorway’s commitment is all year round.”
Doorway is the only specialist service for this client group in North Wiltshire and is funded from a variety of charity, church and statutory sources as well as donations from individuals. Most of our staff are volunteers who bring a wide variety of skills and life experience to the task.
With one-to-one support from trained staff we have developed trusting relationships with our guests, some of whom are now moving on in their lives. With help from Doorway, our guests say that they commit less crime since they started coming to the centre and this means that we are contributing to public safety and benefiting the community as a whole.