Doorway Spring Fair

Had a great day helping out on the book stall at the Spring Fair today. From a guests point of view the following need a a special mention.

To St Andrew’s Church Chippenham thank you for hosting the event.

To the public for putting their hands in their pockets and helping raise funds for a most deserving charity.

A SPECIAL thank you to all the volunteers of Doorway and beyond for your much appreciated help in making the fair a raving success.



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The light at the end of the tunnel came too late – My Word published in the Gazette & Herald Newspaper – April 2015

 If you read my column last month then you will remember that two of our rough sleepers failed the Pereira Test since they were deemed, by the council, not to be any more vulnerable than “an ordinary homeless person”

 It’s really rather ironic and devastatingly sad that one of those guys has since died. Which proves that he was actually really rather vulnerable after all.

 And yes, it will be extremely easy for anyone to just write him off as being homeless and substance dependent but it is worth remembering that he was desperately trying to get help to not only come off the drugs but also to get treatment for hepatitis, find suitable supportive accommodation and get himself sorted.

 Desperately trying to get help in what we, at Doorway, call the catch-22 fridge situation…

 See, standard treatment for hepatitis C is only possible if you can store your medication (Interferon) in a fridge. And if you are homeless then you haven’t got a fridge. But you can’t get a fridge because someone has decided that you aren’t priority need and therefore the council doesn’t have a statutory duty to find you accommodation. But the fact of the matter is that you are unable to start treatment and therefore you are really rather vulnerable. It’s really not rocket science.

 In 2012, Moses (a volunteer at Wiltshire Addiction Support Project) walked 200 miles around Wiltshire with a fridge in order to raise awareness of this very issue. Moses, who was a Falklands veteran and formerly homeless, suffered from the virus but was unable to access treatment since he was living in a caravan and didn’t have a fridge.

“There are a lot of people who are diagnosed with hepatitis C like myself that are homeless so they are missing out on treatment, and I wanted to raise awareness of it. I am hoping that it will do something towards the stigma.”

 Three years later and not only is the condition still not recognised as being of a high priority, but there is still a huge amount of stigma attached to actually having the illness.

 The bottom line is that K was extremely vulnerable. He had ongoing long term mental health issues which led to him being very fragile. But there is very little support for people who have a dual diagnosis – a mental health condition co-occurring with substance misuse. It is impossible to treat someone for these issues separately and yet there has been, in our experience, very little overlap within the two spheres of provision of support. He also had serious physical health issues that needed treatment. Basically K was on a crash course to developing serious long term medical conditions that could very easily be fatal.

 Depending on other risk factors, such as alcohol use, between 10% and 40% of people with untreated chronic hepatitis will go on to develop scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). Around one in five people with cirrhosis will then develop liver failure, and one in 20 will develop liver cancer, both of which can be fatal.

 So whilst people sat around making decisions about his levels of vulnerability they delayed him getting into a safe place, and forgot that he was a human being who was totally reliant on a stranger having a bit of compassion and just giving him a little bit of support when he needed it most.

 And that bloody breaks my heart. Because I saw K week after week, year after year, and I sat and listened to him every time he broke down and sobbed. And we were just at the point where he actually had the chance to get a room in supported accommodation, he was engaging with the substance misuse services, and he was waiting for his hepatitis treatment. He walked out the door on that day and gave me a hug because he could see the light at the end of the very long dark tunnel and he knew that he had a chance to make everything okay.

 And 5 days later he was dead in hospital.

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Gareth writes about why he ran the London Marathon in support of Doorway

 My name is Gareth and I lived in Wiltshire for a number of years whilst serving in the armed forces. I left the army last year and spent a brief period living in the north east before moving to Chippenham. In my new community I quickly recognised the excellent work and effort that Lisa Lewis puts into Doorway, pretty much her entire heart and soul.

 Last October I found out that I had secured a place in the London marathon and my friend Michelle suggested I run for Doorway. I took Michelle’s advice on board and I have since raised around £600 for an extremely worthy cause.

 Since 2007 I have never lived in one place for longer than a year. I know first-hand what it is like to face regular disruption to your life when moving around seemingly constantly. However, this is nothing in comparison to the problems and issues that Lisa at Doorway helps people with on a daily basis.

 In November I wrote for the Independent newspaper about my worries regarding leaving the armed forces and subsequent issues of poverty and homelessness. This is an issue that is very much close to my heart and I really hope I can continue to help Doorway in Wiltshire in whatever way I can.

 There is very much a family / community feeling surrounding Doorway and that is testament to the outstanding and unbelievable work they undertake. I would of course welcome the day where Doorway’s services are no longer required, yet until then I implore you to help where and when you can, to help those in need who need our help the most.

 Gareth May 2015

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A “Green” Bag-Packer ( The Final Chapter)

Spent another day at Sainsburys Chippenham bag packing with  Doorway although I had to leave earlier than I intended.   

It was both a sad but again a very enjoyable experience. Today was our last session bag packing.

Many thanks must be given to all the Sainsburys staff who actually voted for us as their charity for the year, their professionalism and friendliness are second to none. A special thank you to Jan for the excellent conversation we had on the checkout today.

Once again the customers were great with their generosity, friendliness and  support over the last 12 months and is truly appreciated.

To “team” Doorway I would like to say a very special thank you for allowing me to take part, I am truly honoured. 


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A Poem to K

So Nearly There

Painted man, upon your skin

Danced pictures of your coloured past

Hard on the outside, sweet within

Through storm and sunshine you held fast

To love of friends and hope of light

Knowing of a better way

Trusting the morn to follow night

And hands to wipe your tears away

You were like us, both good and bad

Made of joy and painful things

Like all of us, we knew you had

Both devil’s horns and angel’s wings

So many words are left unsaid

Your life a short unfinished prayer

For happiness and your own bed

So nearly there, so nearly there

anonymous April 2015

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How to define ‘ordinary’? – My Word published in the Gazette & Herald Newspaper – March 2015

There is a very little known legal assessment tool that establishes the vulnerability of those who are homeless called the “Pereira Test”.

This test instructs authorities to ask the question, “will the applicant, by reason of whatever condition or circumstances assail him/her, suffer greater harm from homelessness than an ‘ordinary homeless person’?”

The relevance of this to the work of Doorway was recently highlighted when two of our guests who were rough sleeping, on the same day, received letters from Wiltshire Council stating that they were not entitled to the statutory duty because they were classified under the homelessness assessment as not being of a ‘high priority’.

And the reason why they were not a high priority was because “I do not believe that your medical condition impedes your daily activities and renders you less able to fend for yourself than an ordinary homeless person so that you would suffer injury or detriment R v Camden LBC ex p Pereira (1998).”

The question that really needs to be asked is how can someone determine just how vulnerable is an ‘ordinary homeless person’??

In Dec 2014 charities Shelter and Crisis challenged the government over the definition of the word ‘vulnerable’ for the purposes of housing those who were homeless and argued that the definition used by councils (and set out in 2006 government guidance) was leading to decisions being made based on resources available rather than the need of the individual.

There is no legal definition for the term ‘vulnerable’. It is not the definition that you will find in a dictionary. It is a definition that has evolved due to use in courtrooms and is incredibly subjective and therefore adaptable by any individual local authority in order to suit its own purposes, resources available (financial, support, housing etc) and statistical recording.

So just who actually is the ‘ordinary homeless person’?

In the Johnson v Solihukk MBC (2013) case the reviewing office used the Homeless Link’s Survey of Needs and Provisions (SNAP) 2010 report to make the decision that the applicant was homeless but not vulnerable.

Unfortunately, for the outcome of the case, the Homeless Link report found that 92% of homeless services were working with people who were experiencing problems with drugs and that drugs were among the issues most frequently affecting the users of homelessness services.  Therefore the applicant’s circumstances were considered to be no different to the ‘ordinary homeless person’ and he was just not vulnerable enough.

In the words of my GP colleague: “Over the course of my many  years as a Wiltshire GP, I’ve been well used  to helping people with their housing requests by specifically addressing  their potential vulnerability were they to become street homeless (or, less often as a GP, their current vulnerability if they are already rough sleepers).”

“I had already worked out that alcohol or other substance abuse alone will not be deemed by the Council’s Housing department to constitute ‘vulnerability’ in themselves, although I certainly disagree with them.”

“However, I am taken aback by what seems to be the current interpretation, ie that mental health issues in the very common ‘dual diagnosis’ pairing with substance abuse do not count as making people ‘less able to fend for themselves’ than other street homeless, on the grounds that most other people on the streets have similar problems!”

“This seems to me to be an unjust and inhumane interpretation of the Pereira judgement, and I shall do my very best to fight this wherever and whenever I see it being used.

“I would also add that the very common ‘dual diagnosis’ combination of mental health and substance abuse problems, often due to past traumatic events, is currently not managed ideally in this area. The psychiatry services will usually not help people with active substance misuse issues, however ‘chicken and egg’ the situation may be, and housing seem to be taking a similar line.”

So if you’re planning on being homeless any time in the near future then just make sure that you are way more vulnerable than the ‘ordinary homeless person’.

Update 9th April 2015

It is with great regret that I learned this week that one of the guys mentioned above died.

Whilst I am still awaiting the post mortem results, I would argue that all rough sleepers are vulnerable and that no one should ever be defined and stamped as ‘an ordinary homeless’ person.

To us, at Doorway, each person who accesses our services is a human being. Not just a name on a piece of paper or a statistic to be briefly noted and then ultimately forgotten. 

We do not have the answers. We cannot make all the bad stuff go away. We cannot make other services / organisations do the ‘right thing’.

What we can do is just simply care. Enough to carry on speaking out on behalf of those who don’t have a voice.

RIP mate.

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On the streets for 16 years… out of choice

On the streets for 16 years… out of choice

10:23pm Wednesday 11th March 2015

By Julie Armstrong

ColinCOLIN is a chatty fellow but is momentarily lost for words when asked the meaning of ‘home’.

Tonight, forecast minus three, he will sleep on the porch of Kington St Michael Church after dining from a skip at the back of Iceland.

After sleeping rough for 16 years this is nothing new. It is not because he has seen his business go under or his benefits sanctioned, but because this is the life he chooses.

Colin, 63, said: “Some of my friends have settled down, put themselves on the housing list. The last time I had a flat was 1999.

“I don’t sign on, I don’t even use night shelters, I’m an outdoors kind of guy. If I’m outside I can smoke. I’ve been smoking for 50 years.”

Despite having the rare chance to sit somewhere warm at a drop-in session of North Wiltshire homeless charity Doorway, he would rather we spoke outside where the temperature is 5C. Even in the time we talk he is soon on his feet, wanting to take a stroll to the river.

Why so cheerful? “I haven’t got the worries,” he said. “The important thing growing up is to take on responsibility, to feel like you are a fully fledged citizen. I am a child of the 60s; it was a very irresponsible decade.”

Asked if he has any aspirations, he chuckles and says, “To get this thing lit”. When his struggle with the dog end is won, he takes great care to move away so his choice of smoking is not imposed on me. For someone growing up in an “irresponsible decade”, Colin has impeccable manners. As we approach a rain splashed bench he insists on placing his jacket over it to shield me from the wet.

Possessions are dismissed as “pointless”, people owning them as having “something to lose”. “Their bank accounts get raided by the internet,” he said. “I’m not in their vulnerable position.”

As if to illustrate this point, a bird passing above chooses to leave its mark on my coat. Colin’s thought on this impertinence is, “Cleanliness can be a phobia, it can become an obsession. It ruins our lives. I’ve made walking mine, because it came so natural to me.

“I never learned to drive, what’s the rush? There’s nowhere I have to be for a particular time. I daren’t start making commitments.

“It’s all about speed now. How good something is, it’s always measured by how fast it works. I don’t wear a watch, and I don’t have a phone. No one needs to reach me for a particular reason, and that’s nice to know. I make a point of not having phone numbers or stuff like that. If it’s meant to be, it happens. It’s a bit of magic.”

Does he find this lifestyle lonely? “Some of the characters I’ve met, if I was desperate for company I could easily have ended up in prison,” he said. “Although I’m a loner, at least I know what I’m doing, I don’t get myself into trouble.

“People say to me, why don’t you get yourself in prison, over the winter, you get three meals a day. The number of times I’ve heard that.

“That would be quite acceptable to them.”

Something approaching scorn peeks through his gentle tone and I am taken aback by such pride from a man who has nothing but what he can carry.

“I don’t beg,” he said. “If I meet lots begging in the streets of Bristol and Bath, I’ve to remind myself they have an addiction. I don’t drink now. I used to, but I’m in my 60s and it’s important to get old gracefully.

“That’s the little bit of pride I’ve got. I’m not laid here with a load of empty cider cans around me. That’s having no power at all.”

Being in control is important to Colin. He has shunned everything that threatened to limit his freedom – a phone, a watch, even hygiene is viewed as a possible obsession. The only thing he obsesses about is walking, his need to roam akin to someone more conventional pining for home.

This is why he doesn’t sign on – it would interfere with his wanderlust. “It’s the buzz of seeing what’s over the next hill, I never get fed up of it,” he said. “Just to hear the birdcall, it is a wonderful thing.”

It’s 4.30pm and the light is drawing in. Doesn’t he get cold? He laughs and points to his legs. “No, I’ve got these boys. I’ll just walk through the night.”

Imagine a world where you are encumbered by nothing and beholden to no one. No duties, no deadlines, no hassle. This is Colin’s utopia.

The flip side is his dinner, if it materialises, will most likely be out of a skip, but that doesn’t bother him. He is free – and his freedom is what matters.

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