Recent events in our town have led to lots of comments and questions being raised about the Shrewsbury Ark on social media and in online community groups.
In this blog we take the most common of these questions and comments and answer them to the best of our abilities.
We hope this gives an insight into the challenges the community, and indeed the nation faces, and the work our dedicated staff and volunteers to do support people, and give them the opportunity to make positive changes in their lives.
Question: "What does the Ark do?"
The Shrewsbury Ark is an award winning charity, which provides ongoing support and day centre facilities for the homeless and vulnerable in our community.
In terms of basic services, we are open Monday to Friday, 9am – 2pm for people to come in for a warm drink, homecooked meal and a shower. They can use the laundry facilities, charge their phones, use the WIFI and computers, watch TV and be treated like human beings.
We also have a library of second-hand books, encourage art and craft activities, and have weekly football sessions. Activities such as these contribute to personal development, better physical and mental health and better self-worth.
In addition, we provide practical support with filling in forms and applying for housing, employment and benefits. We host partner organisations, official appointments/meeting, mental and medical health clinics, and refer clients to additional services that can help with their wide-ranging issues.
The Ark is the only organisation in Shropshire providing day centre facilities with support of this kind, and the emotional and mental health support given by staff and volunteers cannot be under estimated.
Question: "Who does the Ark Support?"
We support anyone in need, you don’t have to be experiencing rough sleeping to come through our doors. We currently regularly see up to 60 people come through our doors each day.
There are approximately 10 people currently verified as sleeping on the streets in Shrewsbury; however, there are many who come through our doors who are in temporary accommodation (hotels, B&B) or sofa surfing with friends and family, and some are in permanent accommodation.
This means that each day we are supporting around 50 people to stay in their accommodation and stay off the streets.
We estimate that around 98% of the people that we help come from Shrewsbury or Shropshire, where the council has a statutory duty to support them.
Those that do come to us from out of area, we help to seek assistance to return to their hometowns where they can access further support.
On days when we are low on staff or volunteers, we will prioritise those who are rough sleeping and remain closed to people with accommodation. Occasionally we close completely if we don’t have enough staff to open safely or if staff need to attend training sessions.
This infograph shows the impact we had 1 July 2022 - 29 June 2023, as well as the age range of people who use our services:
Comment: "Most of the people who use the Ark aren’t homeless, they’re all addicts and thieves."
You do not have to be homeless to come into the Ark, and the people who use our services come from all walks of life.
They may be ex-servicemen, survivors of domestic abuse or are simply in crisis for other reasons, and don’t know where to go for advice or support.
Many of the people who use our services do have issues with alcohol, substance abuse and mental health, that is why they need our support. It takes time to build trust, and we are privileged to get to know the people behind the addictions, and to learn about the trauma and abuse that has led to their current situation.
We understand a person’s needs, support them, and encourage them to make changes.
Some people have criminal records, which makes finding accommodation and employment extremely challenging.
We do not judge.
One person gave permission for us to share story for World Homeless day 2020 – you can read his story here.
You may also be interested to read what people who used our services think of us here.
Question: "Why doesn’t the Ark stay open longer and provide accommodation?"
The day centre is open 9-2pm Monday to Friday for anyone who needs our support.
The Ark is run by an independent, local charity and is not part of any wider national organisation; we do not receive any government funding.
We rely purely by donations and any grants we can attract.
We have a small team of paid staff (9), and rely on a team of 40 plus volunteers to keep the day centre up and running.
With utilities, staff and volunteer training, and other general running costs increasing, we simply do not have the funding to open longer than our current hours.
To open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and provide overnight accommodation, we estimate we would need a minimum of an additional £500,000 a year.
Question "Why does the Ark charge for its services?"
We don’t charge, and we will never charge for our services.
Comment: "The Ark brings all the anti-social behaviour to our town"
Nearly all of the people we support are from Shrewsbury and its surrounding area.
We accept that many of the people who use our services have anti-social behaviour, and the increasing presence of “designer drugs” on our streets is exacerbating the problem.
Drugs are a nationwide issue; drug use, drug seizures and drug offences continue to increase within the UK with a total annual cost to society of over £21 billion. Read more here.
And homelessness, and the risk of homelessness is rising and is a nationwide problem:
Government figures show 79,840 households faced homelessness in England between January and March 2023 – the highest number on record. More information here.
New research by Shelter reveals one in two working private renters in England - 3.2 million adults – wouldn’t have enough in savings to pay their rent for more than a month if they lost their job. More information here.
Local statistics can be found via the Local Government Association’s report, Understanding Homelessness in Shropshire.
The Ark didn’t create this situation and we are trying, with our very limited resources, to help people make positive changes, and to move away from their destructive lifestyles.
A very small number of the people who use our services cause disturbances; unfortunately, these individuals can the most intimidating, and we do understand that they are highly visible in our community.
However, there are many more people inside our day centre, working with our staff and other agencies to keep off the streets and move on with their lives.
Sadly, not everyone is ready or able to make changes; many famous people with chronic addictions, who had all the money and support in the world still haven’t been able to make it through.
Now imagine how hard it is for someone who has immense trauma in their life, who has suffered rejection from an early age, and is now in a sleeping bag in a shop doorway, to engage long term with any ongoing support services.
Furthermore, even when a person is ready to engage, there is a chronic lack of supported housing and spaces in rehabilitation centres.
Sadly, we do see some give up hope, and slide back into despair.
Question: "What is the Ark doing about the problems we see outside its premises?"
We truly do understand it is intimidating and very upsetting for the local community to be regularly experiencing antisocial behaviour on their doorstep, and, while we cannot be responsible for other people's behaviour, (and we do stress to people who use our services the impact their behaviour has on others, and they need to change their behaviour), we sincerely apologise to the community for this.
Working with the police, the Council, and other relevant and concerned individuals and organisations, we are looking at options to address the situation, and hope to be implementing short and long-term measures soon.
Options we are reviewing take time and funding to implement and while we are working hard, we can’t turn things around overnight.
We thank people for raising their concerns and ask for their patience and support as we work towards making the area immediately surrounding our day-centre a safer and calmer environment for those living and working in the vicinity, and for our own staff, volunteers and the many others who use our services.
If you would like to support us, you can do so in the following ways:
Make a donation via our page on the Charities Aid Foundation. Click here to make a regular or one-off donation online now. (Please remember to Gift Aid your donation – This means we will receive tax benefits and help ensure your donation goes further.)
Shop online through the Give as you Live shopping website. Through this portal, retailers agree to give a percentage of your purchase to us, at NO cost to you. More information and sign-up details here.
Call in at our shop at 14 Castle Street to make a purchase or donate unwanted items.
Volunteer with us, if you want to be part of the solution. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about our volunteering opportunities.
If you’re concerned about someone sleeping rough, let us know about rough sleepers in your area via Streetlink on 0300 500 0914 or online at www.streetlink.org.uk. We will action your report, locating the person of concern, helping them to get off the streets as soon as possible and supporting them to remain in their own home.