Around half of the people seen by Action Homeless have used their services before – but it has seen ‘more new faces’ than ever this year.
The boss of a Leicester homeless charity has said they have seen a large amount of new people this winter as a result of the cost of living crisis and they are expecting the situation to worsen in the start of 2023.
Action Homeless’ CEO Mark Grant has told LeicestershireLive they are seeing “more new faces” using the charity’s services than usual. He said: “We are seeing more new people homeless than what we’ve seen before.
“Half of the rough sleepers and people who use our services are people we’ve seen before, but now we are seeing a lot more new faces and have done a lot this year. We’ve also seen a lot of housing issues for things such as mental health and trauma seeing vulnerable people being removed from housing which we’ve also had to handle differently and work with local mental health services.”
“I think we’ll see a lot of people coming to use the service in the weeks after Christmas and New Year. We’ve only just stopped feeling the impact of the pandemic and now the cost of living crisis is starting to cause a lot of problems for people that may have previously been in an okay situation.”
“We see it time and time again that people with mental health issues, such as severe anxiety, are put onto busy estates where a lot of things are always happening.
“This just causes them go back into their shell and they struggle because of it. This can undermine a lot of hard work that has taken place to get them off the streets to begin with and I think we need to deal with the mental health impact of homelessness and things that can lead to it.
“We work with the Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust to refer people to mental health support and services, there are specialists that support us and help us find the help our service users need. Our staff are also well informed so that they can be more attuned to deal with service users who have mental health issues and be aware of the specific support they need.
The recent cold snap also increased pressure on their services. Mark said: “Rough sleeping harsh weather is a big concern for us, it’s a humanitarian issue as much as anything else. If it’s too hot or cold for you to be outside for long, that’s especially the case for rough sleepers.
“We had someone in a couple of weeks ago that was hospitalised after passing out drunk on the streets before being sent to us to look after. I can only think that if he did it during the -8 degrees temperatures we had this month he would have died.
“The city council has an outreach team that goes out 7 days a week to check for rough sleepers and refer them to the different services in Leicester, including us. If we get a call at 10pm at night and all our beds are full, we’d give them a sofa or anything we had to ensure they had a roof over their heads. Tackling rough sleeping in the winter is our top priority.”
Action Homeless began 50 years ago with an overnight bed for the rough sleepers of London Road and nothing more, but now has 250 beds for homeless people in Leicester. But as well as providing emergency support it also works to find a lasting solution to people’s problems.
Mark said: “The biggest thing to overcome is building confidence back up and giving them some optimism and emotional resilience.
“People that have been in temporary housing for so long, whether it’s sleeping on sofas or in cars, or even in temporary accommodation, a lot of them haven’t had a settled place to call home for up to 12 months, 18 months even.
“That’s why we’ve recently refurbished rooms to give them their own kitchens and bathrooms for each room, giving them their own independence and space to get settled rather than having to depend on others.
“Until you give someone a space to feel secure and remove that fear of homelessness, it’s always going to be a challenge.”
To help homelessness in your local area, Mark suggests opting for charities in the area rather than the national ones, as that’s the best way to see change in your local community. He said: “A lot of people provide money to Shelter and Crisis, but while they do provide some homelessness support, they don’t provide it in Leicester.
“I’d recommend people donate their money locally to keep in the area’s services. This doesn’t mean just donate to us, it can be The Bridge: Homelessness to Hope, Help the Homeless, or the area’s food banks. If you want to give back and help those struggling, do your best to keep it as local as possible as those services will need it the most.”