By Emily Bell and Lorna Hinde
We have both been volunteering in the Ark day centre for a couple of years now and have seen many clients find accommodation, but fail to keep it, due to a lack of the ongoing practical and emotional support that our clients need, after years of sleeping rough on the streets.
Recently, it’s been really exciting to see the charity develop outside the confines of the day centre, with the introduction of Cherry and Brea (the new Outreach and Move on workers) and the creation of volunteer outreach teams.
It was during the first lockdown, earlier this year, that we were partnered with clients whilst the day centre was closed and they were placed into temporary accommodation. Lorna was asked to make regular, pre-arranged, phone calls to Jim, who’d been sleeping rough in town the previous year and had recently been found a suitable flat in Shrewsbury.
Lorna and Jim had always got on well and their conversations during lockdown cemented that supportive friendship. Whilst Jim now has a roof over his head, he struggles at times with the challenges of running a house, feelings of loneliness and isolation and a constant fear and lack of trust of those in positions of authority.
Once lockdown lifted, Lorna began accompanying Jim to appointments and taking him to visit the allotment, where he spends time remembering our friend Kyle, who died in May. More recently they’ve been going to Shrewsbury Food Hub’s Food share tables, where they enjoy chatting to the volunteers and picking up some much-needed food supplies.
In September I joined Lorna as part of Jim’s support bubble, which means we can go into his flat together, helping him to keep it tidy and enjoy a coffee and a chat. This feels such an important time, as any little problems or issues can be resolved, with additional help from Ark or council support workers if necessary, before they escalate.
The outreach support we are able to offer Jim works because it’s built on mutual trust, respect and friendship. We have taken time to get to know each other and he has allowed us into his life, we all look forward to our Tuesday mornings spent together. Jim often tells us that simply having us in his flat makes it feel more like a home.
Jim knows that he can call or message us, if he’s feeling anxious or down. Often a quick chat is all that’s needed to get him back on his feet, but if we’re really concerned, we know that the Ark and council are there to offer further support.
Using volunteers to support clients in their homes is a new way of working for the Ark and none of us knew what to expect. But the careful balance of support and space that the Ark staff have given us, has allowed a really positive friendship to develop, that is just as important to Jim, as the roof over his head.