Volunteer Profile – Martin

It was nearly 6 years ago that I began my involvement with Doorway. I was slowly recovering from having been extremely ill, my hospital visits had reduced to monthly, and I had just got to the point where I was well enough to find boredom outweighing relief at survival and residual grottiness. More to the point, I had begun to consider that I might someday consider being able to work again, and even more pertinently, had realised that if I watched many more episodes of the Jeremy Kyle Show, my brain might fall out permanently.

So what to do? Voluntary work seemed to be a possible starting point on the long road back to my old day job of being a GP.  I mentioned this when talking with friends. One of them (sadly no longer with us) mentioned that he had for a while worked at Doorway, and though he had had to stop for personal reasons, he could very much recommend it as rewarding work, helping with providing meals, and talking with the homeless of Chippenham  and North Wiltshire. Not that I was aware there WERE homeless people in North Wiltshire……

It was more difficult to track down Doorway than I had expected. I knew the sessions took place in the Salvation Army building in Chippenham, but Doorway did not have then the internet presence it has now. However, I finally found a number which I hoped was the right one, and left a message. This was returned, and an interview was set up with Lisa and Karen. And then an embarrassing thing happened – the ‘mind fog’ to which I was still prone because of my illness descended, and I completely forgot to turn up.  When the ghastly truth sunk in with Lisa leaving a message on my phone, I thought this would be interpreted as a terminal lack of commitment, but I’m so pleased she gave me another chance. I can’t remember too much about the first sessions, apart from being a bit surprised and embarrassed to find one of my old patients, whom I knew very well, was there as a regular guest. From the very start then, my past could not be forgotten or fully ignored… I was struck by the friendly atmosphere, how the guests, volunteers and staff mixed so well, but also how there was definite authority when needed, and superb organisation. While many things at Doorway have changed in my time there, those factors have not.

Initially I came only on Thursdays, as I had a commitment elsewhere on Monday mornings, but it was soon an appropriate time to finish with that, and so I started coming to Doorway for both sessions. In discussions with Lisa, we had agreed that my role would be likely to be usually that of a ‘befriender’ in the Hall, rather than in the kitchen. It was of course accepted that if extra hands were needed in the kitchen, I would muck in there. However, on the first occasion this happened, I managed a spectacular piece of breakage, and haven’t been invited back in there since! Honest, it wasn’t deliberate.

I really can’t remember when I started working on occasions on the front desk, rather than on the tea and coffee table. I soon discovered that there is much more to this than merely recording the “Where did you sleep last night?” and asking if people have drinks on them. Sometimes the first impression of a guest’s mood is different from the mask they put on to go into the Hall. At the other end of the visit, we get the throwaway but deeply significant remarks made at the very point of leaving when it feels more ‘psychologically safe’ for people.  In between, we hear snatches of the phone calls, we see interactions outside amongst the smokers, we spot who is hovering around on the pavement outside weighing up whether to come in, or waiting for somebody inside. Nowadays, I am one of the team on the front desk most sessions that I’m there, more often than not, alongside the wonderful ‘Auntie Sue’. These are people I even trust with my black ink Pentel! If my mood is fairly stable…..

Earlyish in my time with Doorway, Helen was running the first pilot of a football drop-in for the guests. I remember thinking how nice it would be to take part, but I could not begin to conceive of being able to run, or even to get to Stanley Park, But when the concept was revived (the first, outdoor project had stopped once cold dark nights set in), I was fit enough, and definitely keen enough to work with Kev in getting it off the ground. I visited the ‘Streets Revolution’ set-up in Oxford, run by Jon Regler. I had got to know Jon through Twitter, and visiting his football session proved to be a real inspiration. We were really fortunate to be offered use of the superb indoor facility at Ladyfield Church, and though our numbers were small to start with, we kept plugging away every Monday evening. I was given extra belief by the knowledge that the thriving Streets Revolution project had started with similarly low numbers. Here we are today, with good numbers, having played in tournaments in our (ahem) distinctive pink kit, and with a team photo from a couple of years back which seems destined to haunt me for the rest of my days, given that it has become one of the ‘Gazette and Herald’s stock Doorway photos. Sadly, it portrays me at probably my fattest in adult life, and tight fitting pink synthetics don’t help the look.  We have younger players on average than we had when we started – and I’m getting on for five years older… I pray that Steve will keep on playing with us so I don’t become the oldest.  Although I’m already the least fit.

The other ‘outside of session’ activity I have been involved with was helping with the launching and editing of the Doorway blog site. For me to be involved with this was a fairly natural progression from my heavy involvement in Twitter (much less nowadays because of time constraints). Through Twitter, I had come into contact with all manner of people involved with homelessness issues, from the CEO of Thames Link to people living on the streets and in hostels, activists both UK-based, like Jon R, and international, like Mark Horvath, and bloggers like Homeless Girl and Aibaihe. The blog seemed a natural cousin of that, though I was hugely honoured to be asked by Lisa.

The initial hope was that the blogsite would principally be for the guests to have a forum to express themselves  –  there has been less of these contributions than I hoped, but judging by quality rather than quantity, particularly the series of pieces by guest ‘samsa.k’, ‘The Voice Inside My Head’, it’s been a resounding success. All I had to do with these searingly honest accounts of one man’s descent into alcoholism and homelessness, and his difficult steps on the comeback trail, was find web links and relevant title pictures, but it was a total honour to be associated at all with them, and to see the subsequent radio and Kindle exposure.  Most important of all, to hear that they had provided inspiration to some people in their battles against their own demons.

Once I was advancing along my own personal comeback trail, there is no question that my involvement at Doorway helped to prove to the relevant professional people that I was fit and capable enough to fulfil a regular commitment, and with a decent enough problem-solving brain to cope (I realise there are those who may disagree with the last bit). However, once I was back in the world of paid work, time issues emerged – usually struggling to finish a Thursday morning work session in time to join the Doorway afternoon drop-in, and always feeling guilty that I had missed the Doorway ‘rush hour’.  By now I was pretty much only doing the Thursday sessions, but trying to do all of them. However, about a year ago, I was asked if I could do a surgery at work starting at 7, and (notionally) finishing at 11:30. Perfect. For the moment, until the next work reshuffle……

I have already mentioned that my cover was blown from day 1, with my old patient being there as a guest.  And word started to spread, but those guests who knew seemed to accept that I ‘used to be a doctor’ and that I had been ill, without asking any questions beyond that, and certainly without asking for medical advice. But as I moved back into the world of professional work more locally, there have been more incidents of people I’ve known with both hats on, past and present, and I have inevitably been involved in giving advice on medical issues of guests both to themselves and to staff. But I am always clear that I cannot prescribe, and I will not criticise treatment by others. Although I might sometimes suggest gently that they seek reassessment…… With one guest I saw him a few times at the drop-in, as it was easier for him to get there than to my surgery. And in one case I have recommended Doorway to a patient for specialist advice. So, the boundaries are a bit blurred nowadays.

What is undoubtedly true is that, not only did Doorway help me back to work, but it has also improved my practice. I am so much more clued-up now in helping patients with their struggles with housing and benefits, I have so much better a picture of the allied organisations out there –particularly as over the nearly 6 years I have been at Doorway, it has changed enormously, with a number of agencies sending workers in on Thursdays, with more assertive signposting to guests, with more time spent on helping guests more deeply and expertly with what seem like ever more complex issues. And I’m not afraid to tweak a few noses in the housing department, either, if it needs doing. No idea where I learned that from…..

And of course, I said earlier that I hadn’t been aware there WERE homeless people in North Wiltshire.  I learned how many homeless, under threat of homelessness, precariously housed, marginalised people there are around here, hidden. Earlyish in my time at Doorway, I was walking down to town with my younger daughter, on my way to town, and she asked who were all these people who needed Doorway. And I was able to tell her that we’d passed 6 guests in the previous 5 minutes…..

As I said I joined Doorway mainly to start the process of getting back to work, do something useful with my time, and to avoid Jeremy Kyle.  I achieved the first two, and then some; I have made great friends (Lisa even gave a reading at my wedding to Jen) and been privileged to share some inspiring moments; I have enjoyed sharing in triumphs and have wept with some losses (there have been rather too many deaths of various causes, for a start); but as for Jezza Kyle –

I’ve heard tales at Doorway that would be considered far too weird for his show, so he’s redundant in my life anyway!

All the time Doorway is around, and I’m still around, I intend for it to continue to be a major part of my life. I think we have a true symbiosis. May Doorway continue to thrive, but may we never take its existence for granted.

 

Posted in Charity, Chippenham, Homelessness, News, Volunteer Profile, Volunteering, Wiltshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Richard’s Story

You often hear of people falling from great heights; having everything and losing it all. But you really don’t think it will ever happen to you. It sounds like a cliché, but there you go!

My fall from grace started back in 2012. Like I said, I had everything I wanted, fantastic house, beautiful wife, a job I was truly proud of and a great social life. Everything was peachy. I even had a little holiday retreat in Bulgaria- what more could I ask for?

How little did I know that over the course of a few years, I would lose everything. I would be left feeling alone, isolated, depressed and ultimately attempting to take my own life – several times.

If it were not for the kindness of others and the support from the wonderful team at Doorway, I truly do not think I would be here to take you on my journey.

My marriage started to fall apart. I guess we were just not as compatible as we both thought.  We tried many times to work through the bad times, but in the end we separated.

And with divorce came the inevitability of losing the house I loved and had worked so hard to achieve.

I was just about able to afford a small bungalow, but at a cost! The mortgage payments were crippling and I just couldn’t cope with it. I had no money to socialise and very quickly I became secluded and insular. Depression was knocking on my door. All the good friends I thought I had

fell away too! Apparently they were more my wife’s friends than mine. The phone stopped ringing; the social scene almost vanished overnight.

But I still had my job to keep me motivated of course! Something I was very proud of! Although I was not particularly academic, I worked my way into a position of some importance in the science world! My job involved DNA sequencing, testing for extremely infectious diseases in animals. I worked in very strict and controlled laboratory environments and like I said, something I was extremely proud of. 20 years of hard graft in the Civil Service had finally paid off!

Then the cuts began. People left and were not replaced. My unit was badly affected by flood damage and a decision was made high up to relocate and merge with another site. My job disappeared and I was allocated a menial role– effectively a teaboy with less money and no future.

For me, the final kick in the teeth and the cracks started to deepen. My self-esteem took a nosedive. The social scene at work stopped. Linked in with the fact I had already lost all my other friends, the sense of loneliness became overbearing. I started to notice things that I just didn’t understand and couldn’t comprehend. Small tasks became monumental problems. Basic household chores became impossible. Something as simple as cooking a microwave meal suddenly became a challenge for me.

I would stare at the television, but not actually watch it. I would count the corners over and over again. What was happening to me? My only comfort left was my dog Russell.  However, even he was not enough!

My first suicide attempt shortly followed. The depression hit me hard and I just couldn’t manage. Suffice to say it was an attempt and I lived to see another day. However the consequences were far reaching.  My mental state left it impossible for me to continue working in what was left of the Labs.  Apart from anything else, I was wracked with guilt and embarrassment. I couldn’t face the questions from colleagues and the sideward glances.  I needed a total change and that is what I decided to do.

I sold up and brought a small flat in Chippenham. I had just enough money to be mortgage free.  My master plan was to rent out the flat and go live in my holiday apartment in Bulgaria. What could go wrong? An ideal solution – or so it seemed at the time.

It didn’t work out well for sure! In hindsight it was a rash decision, but when you are in the depths of despair, your judgement and decision making are flawed. I became even more secluded. The language barrier was a massive problem for me, and one I would never overcome. There was a small ex-pat community there, but a general lack of funds meant once again I could not socialise.

All I now had to keep me sane was Russell. My best mate and constant companion. But even there I ran into difficulties. The winters can be harsh, especially in the mountains where I was holed up. It just didn’t occur to me that he needed better protection from the snow and ice on the ground. Frostbite in the feet was inevitable! I had even managed to hurt the dearest thing to me!

I stuck it out for 4 months. 4 months of almost total isolation apart from an occasional phone call back to my brother in the UK. This just wasn’t working out!

So I upped sticks and drove back to the UK and back to Chippenham. After a couple of weeks I brought myself a small caravan and found a field to pitch it in. I thought I could start to build my life again. The rental from the flat gave me just enough to live on, although I had no access to electricity or running water.  It kept me dry, but certainly not warm or clean!

I thought I was on the mend! I even got a call from an old work colleague with a possible lead back into Laboratory work. I followed it up and after a herculean effort to find the confidence to attend interviews, I was offered the job; my experience surely playing to my benefit.

But all was not well. I was just blocking out my true condition. The drive to work had me shaking in fear and being physically sick. I was not well, I just didn’t realise how ill I was. Being able to accept and acknowledge that you have a problem is the first step to recovery. Unfortunately I was nowhere near this yet and totally out of my depth still.

The job didn’t last! I could not perform the tasks or concentrate. After 2 weeks of struggling every day, I had to admit defeat. And it hit me hard. Another failure, just when I thought I could turn things around. I had to get some help and I knew this now.

I made the difficult decision to speak to my GP and finally tell someone about my problems. I let it all out – suicide attempt, depression, loneliness, my inability to perform tasks – the whole thing. In turn, my GP put me in touch with the Crisis team and from that moment, things started to happen.

Next thing I knew, a psychiatrist came out to see me at the caravan. I was assessed in terms of my medication and they also put me in touch with the Doorway team in Chippenham. I have to say that was probably the best thing to have happened to me in a long long time!

At first I could not face it! The idea of seeing people, having to talk about my personal problems and potentially being judged by strangers was too much to bear! But again, I plucked up the courage and decided to give it a go. My first visit was not easy. I was feeling seriously low and I could not even walk inside the building. It was only through the kindness and gentle persuasion given by Lisa that I eventually managed to step inside. I knew this would take a time to get used to. I couldn’t eat or drink in front of people and my first visits were hard to face.

After a few weeks of attending I started to feel more confident. I actually started to enjoy speaking to other people who attended, understanding I was not alone and others were suffering the same as me.

Some of the basic issues I had were addressed. Simple things you take for granted, but had become massive obstacles for me. Things like taking a shower, getting the laundry done, being given deodorant, clean socks and pants. They even provided me with some new clothing and bedding and sorted out a pill dispenser. Even down to the point of providing me with food takeouts, because of my anxiety of not being able to eat in front of people. They helped with all these things and more. They helped me feel human again. I got so much help and support. Lisa again coaxed me, showing me that I just needed to deal with small tasks at first. Small steps – one at a time!

You could think that I had now finally turned the corner and life would start to blossom again for me. But depression doesn’t let you off that easily. I started to drink again and the loneliness was never far away. A cold, wet miserable winter only added to my mental state. The caravan developed leaks in the roof.  A lack of heating and constant dampness only added to my misery. The field I was in became waterlogged and I even managed to pick myself up a case of trench foot!

Another suicide attempt followed. Luckily once again, it was just an attempt. I continued to visit the Doorway team who put me in contact with Turning Point, who I am now currently working with. Let’s see where that takes me!

But for now, I continue to regularly visit the Doorway team and for me they are a lifeline! They make me feel safe and perhaps more importantly equal. They don’t judge, they just help. There is genuine care and they look out for you. If I miss a session, they give me a call and check I’m ok.

It’s a reason to get out of the caravan and I now look forward to my visits. They never fail to put a smile on my face and always manage to make me laugh. I particularly love the cries of ‘Got clean socks? Got clean pants?’ when I take a shower. Makes me feel cared for! You have no idea how much that can mean.

They know me there now. They can tell if I’m taking a turn for the worse! They remind me to take the meds if I forget. They keep an eye on my dog for me. Even he has issues! Food allergies bless him. They helped me once again with new bedding after the last suicide attempt and taped up my hand so I could take a shower. I even got a hamper (kindly donated from Honda) which I ate alone on Christmas day – tearful from the kindness shown to me. Just recently, I got a hug from one of them – my first one for over a year.

Maybe the best advice they could have given me was not to hide things from family. They told me to talk and explain my issues and weaknesses. That has helped hugely and I am even now managing a day out now and again with ‘lost’ family!

My time with the Doorway team has taught me just how easy it is to fall into a desperate state.  I meet all sorts of characters there and I now enjoy their company. Many are broken from life, just the same as me. They’re not drunks and junkies as you might think. They are all beautiful people with a story to tell. They could be the fireman who saves your kids or the guy that fixes your car.

Places like Doorway are important. They play a vital role in finding accommodation, food, clothes or sleeping bags for rough sleepers. They put you in contact with other support teams and are there when you need them. For me, they saved my life. It’s that simple. There is not much out there that offers help. This I have come to realise. Without their support I would not be here today.

So that’s me. I’m on the mend and feeling optimistic. I don’t feel like ending it all right now, mainly down to the friends I have made. I have a long way to go, but I know I can rely on the Doorway team. Hopefully one day I can pay back some of the kindness they have shown me – maybe be able to help others myself. After all, a problem shared is a problem halved.

But to finish on another cliché, and I may as well considering I started on one, as least I know with Doorway around I may just get by with a little help from my friends!

Richard May 2016

Update March 2017

Richard has moved to a different to a county. He has a new home and is now volunteering at a similar daycentre.

Posted in Alcohol, Charity, Chippenham, Guest Profile, Health, Homelessness, Mental Health, News, Uncategorized, Wiltshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Doorway Writing Group March 2017

Doorway Writing group March 2017
A good session – as ever!
• We talked about rabbits and fish – well, why ever not?
• T and I had an interesting conversation about writers’ block and also about writing letters – probably, we concluded, something we should all do more of.
• Following on from our discussion last time about reading long novels, K had risen to the challenge and finished reading Dombey and Son (Dickens); he’d even written a summary of the plot – see below.
• K and N completed this month’s crossword and a number of guests contributed answers to some of the clues.
• Q and J had a fascinating talk about life events and how these can make for effective stories. Watch this space.
• J contributed yet another wonderful poem – see below.

Happy reading!

Advice from a guest (anon)
Take the good moments
And remember
When it gets tough.

Shattered Accommodation (a Poem by J)
Carrying bags across the tracks
To the place amongst wild garlic and ivy,
Elm trees.
Looking at the stars at night
And wondering
Where has the wind blown my tarpaulin this time.
Cursing and fumbling in the dark
Gathering a bundle of sodden bedding

Down the road to the dusty old warehouse
With the broken windows
Asbestos and obsolete machinery
Scurryings amongst the rubbish
And the partitions.

This is the history of shattered accommodation
Blasted by gales
Where everything fails
But pitch, pine and nails.

Dombey and Son in Miniature (plot summary by K)

Dombey, Paul, had been the son but now no father. Had a daughter, had a wife, had no son. Then he had a son, but lost his wife in process. Miss Tox a friend of Mr Dombey’s sister sent her neighbour, Polly Toodle to be a wet nurse called Mrs Richards. Mrs Richards and Susan Nipper took both kids to Polly Toodle’s house one day then lost the daughter. She was re-united by Walter who worked for Dombey and Son as well as being the nephew of a nautical instrument maker. Mrs Richards (aka Polly Toodle) was given her notice and marching orders.
Son, Paul didn’t flourish, sent to Brighton for the air to Mrs Pipchin’s then to school at the Flimber’s, also in Brighton. The instrument maker fell on hard times and Walter went to Brighton and requested a loan from Dombey and Son his employer. Dombey the father asked Dombey the Son and Dombey the son agreed the loan and gave Walter a note to hand to Mr Carker (James) to authorise the payment.
Shortly after, Walter was sent to the West lndies by Dombey and Son but the ship was wrecked en voyage. Walter escaped but on a vessel bound for China so nobody knew where he was. The daughter Florence was heartbroken.
Major Bagstock, a neighbour of Miss Tox, took Dombey to Leamington where they met Mrs Grainger and her aunt. Dombey was engaged to marry the niece before they left Leamington. The marriage wasn’t a success and Carker (James) attempted to elope with Mrs Dombey number two. They ran to Dijon but Dombey found out and travelled to France and Carker James was then no more, he didn’t find Mrs Dombey number two though.
Dombey and Son was declared bankrupt, Walter came back then so did his uncle who had gone to the West lndies looking for him. Florence married Walter, Mr Toots married Susan Nipper the maid, the teacher married Dr Flimber’s daughter and was given the school. Mr Dombey was humbled, Mrs Dombey number two met Florence but didn’t meet Mr Dombey again.
And then they all lived happily ever after 878 pages.

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The Reality of the Welfare Reform – article published in the Gazette & Herald newspaper – Feb 2013

On the 21st February 2013 my first monthly article was published in the Opinion column of the Gazette and Herald newspaper.

It is incredibly pertinent that this is the very same article that I read at our recent screening of Ken Loach’s BAFTA winning film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ since it is very relevant to our ongoing work surrounding the issue of the benefit system.

To mark the 4 year anniversary I have decided to re post the article as a tribute to Tim who died in October 2015.

I watch him as he shuffles up the steps. Slowly placing one foot in front of the other whilst trying to hold on to the rail, and his bag, at the same time as balancing his walking stick without tripping. It takes all his mental effort to prevent a fall.

 My heart sinks as I open the door for him and a rush of cold air hits my face. I see the shadow of the man he once was, not so very long ago.

A rush of mixed emotions courses through me. Both a sense of sheer relief that he is still alive and a feeling of dread in anticipation of the reply to our standard greeting “how are you?”

His immediate response surprises me. He drops to his knees in order to be able to see the signing in sheet on the front desk. He looks up at me and the tears appear in his eyes, then slowly begin to trickle, in lines, down his weathered looking face.

And my heart breaks once again that week…

I look back at him, through the tears that are already starting to well up in my own eyes, and I wonder just what has happened to our society that leads to my witnessing grown men crying out of sheer desperation.

This isn’t a one off situation. It’s been occurring, here at Doorway, more and more frequently over the last few months. I’ve become somewhat hardened, over the years, to the complex issues that I face every week, but even I wasn’t prepared for the constant emotional battering that I am currently experiencing.

The experts tell you not to take your work home with you. Not to let it affect your home life. To switch off and forget. But you can’t just forget the sadness, the anger, the frustration and the despair that resonates around you. You automatically absorb it and then it just sits there, silently festering, whilst you become more and more cynical about the society you live in.

He’s been coming to our drop-in sessions for years. He is one of those guys who can entertain with his stories, the kind that you could listen to for hours. He’s had a really rather eventful life. But now he is paying for it. Now I’m not a medical person, I don’t fully comprehend the condition. He’s tried to explain to me how he has a degenerative sight condition but all I can see is the shame behind his eyes. He doesn’t want to be a burden, he doesn’t want us to feel sorry for him, he doesn’t want to have to rely on benefits.

He’s still on his knees. Words pour out from his mouth like “benefits stopped”, “fit to work”, “tribunal”, and “court”.

I reel backwards in shock. They are claiming that he is fit to work although he is nearly blind. They have stopped his benefits. He has to go to court, for a tribunal, after his appeal failed.

And suddenly I understand. The humiliation of having to go to court. The mental health issues from the worry of the way the system has been slowly grinding away in the background for months. He hadn’t told us what was happening. He was ashamed to ask for help.

They say that ‘a perfect storm’ is coming.  A combination of factors including falling incomes, rising costs of living, increasing unemployment, a lack of decent jobs and the proposed benefit cuts will affect those who are already the most vulnerable in our society. It will be devastating and catastrophic and it will affect more people than can be imagined.

The Welfare Reform Act 2012 received Royal Assent to become law in March last year and legislates for the biggest change to the entire welfare system for over 60 years. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claims that it will “make the benefits and tax credits systems fairer and simpler by: creating the right incentives to get more people into work; protecting the most vulnerable in our society; delivering fairness to those claiming benefit and to the taxpayer.”

Whilst many agree that the welfare system simply hasn’t worked, there is currently a public outrage amidst a common belief that the DWP claims are untrue and that the result of the welfare reform, this year, will drive many more people into poverty without delivering the projected economic recovery.

More and more people have already being driven into debt, hunger and homelessness and from April millions more will be hit by the bedroom tax, cuts in council tax benefits, the ending of disability living allowance, the benefit cap, to name just a few of the reforms.

And so I look down at him, still on his knees in front of me, and I wonder just how those who make the decisions can sleep at night. I see the real life people. The human beings, not the statistics. And I watch grown men cry.

Note: Doorway is a drop-in centre (and so much more) for homeless and vulnerably housed people based in Chippenham but serving the entire north of Wiltshire.

Posted in Alcohol, Benefits, Charity, Chippenham, Homelessness, Mental Health, Welfare Reform, Wiltshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Doorway Writing Group February 2017

Writing Group February 2017

We had another great writing group session this time.

This month’s crossword worked well:

  • guests on all tables contributed by answering clues;
  • R and friend were still, in fact, beavering away to complete it as I bid my reluctant farewell;
  • it generated some interesting discussions on the writing table: Had anyone ever seen a corncrake? What was DH Lawrence’s second name (or even his first name, come to that)?

We spoke about reading and in particular about the challenges of reading long novels such as Dickens’ Dombey and Son and Tolstoy’s War and Peace: long-term challenges indeed! We discussed the fascinating characters we meet: in literature and in real life. Well, I can certainly say I’ve met some totally fascinating and wonderful people during my – as yet fairly short – time at Doorway.

We experimented with writing in different colours to emphasise different moods. The original of J’s poem (see below) was written in green to bring out the spring theme.

Now to our written contributions for this month – i.e. what you’ve really been waiting for: a short, evocative poem by J and the long-awaited continuation of his short story (part one appeared in the December 2016 blog).

A poem by J

A Higher View

Grey drizzly morning,

Rooftop sparrows toss the moss,

Spring bug harvesting.

 

 

Minnie’s Christmas Outing (a Short Story by J – part 2)

 

Nailsworth was  a small town about the midpoint of our  journey. We arrived at an old around midnight. Water was rushing  along the old mill-race. The fog had turned to frost and the stars shone Bright in the clear sky , the leaves and grass mantled with ice crystals.

Amongst the leaves and debris of a sunken threshold before one of the out-buildings we sheltered to wait for daybreak but my limbs started cramping and we  were forced to continue

 

walking, tramping along the disused Railway track  towards Nailsworth We climbed the pitch out of town back on the road to Chippenham.

Winding on and on, a fox barked between the stark silhouettes of the supplicating trees, the brackish stagnant Water in the ditches reflected the darkness of the night and only the hoot of an owl broke the

Four miles from Malmesbury  Signs of daylight arrived unnoticed, we had just passed the sign announcing ‘welcome To Wiltshire ‘ I slumped by the side of the road craving the oblivion of sleep.

I crawled or rolled  somehow under a thorn bush and lay there unconscious, senseless until the aroma of coffee jolted my senses awake. The face of a stranger emerged before me. I was sitting in a furniture restorators workshop in Malmesbury while the owner began telling me how while driving back from a late delivery he noticed a little terrier wearing a tartan waistcoat by the side of the road. Stopping he opened the passenger door Minnie loved going for rides and hopped in. Crossing to the driver’s seat he noticed a pair of boot protruding from a nearby bush and he hauled me into the van. What a situation. Had it not have been for a Samaritan travelling a deserted stretch of road, a late Christmas present and a little terrier sitting attentively, waiting…

We were driving back to ‘Pooh Corner’, the field with my caravan, the smell of chickens and Ruby the cob her winter coat skewed half on half off as usual. Wandering around in a dream-like state until a letter landed in the post-box from the Gloucester Police station… My wallet containing a sum of money was handed in would I please collect it! This was a promising start to the new year. Motivated, I made casual visits to local schools and got a part-time cleaning job for many years. My housing situation improved also when I started going to doorway I was frogmarched to the council reception desk and catapulted to the top of the waiting list, well 2nd place actually within weeks I had a place to live and  Minnie had well-deserved comfort and passed away asleep in her basket a few years later. I like to be reminded  of that time in my life after all who knows what is just around the corner and who our friends really are. Thanks to all the staff and volunteers at doorway and guests hope everybody has an enjoyable and rewarding 2017!

Best Wishes

Julian.

 

 

 

Posted in Chippenham, Homelessness, Mental Health, Poetry, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Finland’s Answer to Rough Sleeping

In November 2016 I had the fantastic opportunity to travel to Finland with a BBC Bristol reporter / researcher, Rachel Stonehouse, and a BBC cameraman, Jez Toogood, as part of a BBC Inside Out West special program on homelessness in the region.

Filming in Helsinki

Filming in Helsinki

We spent three days in Helsinki to investigate Finland’s claim to have significantly reduced the number of people sleeping rough in the country.

The visit was hosted by Juha Kaakinen, CEO of the Y Foundation, and we were very fortunate to spend time in several housing projects talking with the service providers and the residents.

The Y Foundation aims “to exert influence to make sure that no-one in Finland needs to be homeless”. They are managing to actually achieve this by offering affordable rental accommodation to people who are having difficulties in finding a home for themselves through the development of the Finnish Housing First model.

My subsequent feedback to the questions asked by the Y Foundation on my return to the UK is as follows:-

What was your overall impression on how homelessness is tackled here in Finland? What do you think about it?

There have been several reports in the British media recently about how Finland is tackling homelessness and so it was really useful for me to visit for myself and get a better feel for the ethos behind the project rather than just reading about the principles.

I strongly believe that the greatest work is done by those people with the greatest passion and vision and meeting both Juha and some of the people who are managing the projects has made me realise that this is why the Finnish Housing First model has proved to be successful. I was totally overwhelmed by not only the hospitality shown to us but also by the honest and emotional accounts given to us by those individuals who have been affected by homelessness.

What surprised you the most and is different, also what is similar here compared to Britain?

Spending three days talking with so many residents and service providers has made me realise that so many different elements are radically different to the way that services are run here in the UK.

Our answer to homelessness has historically been to put people in short term emergency accommodation or hostels in order to make them ready for housing. In the UK we expect long term rough sleepers to be able to sort out their drug or alcohol dependencies whilst they are living in temporary, and often very unsuitable, accommodation.

The Finnish model is the total opposite to this in that you are placing people straight into somewhere that they can call ‘home’ at the same time as introducing a support package in order that they can sustain that tenancy.

Of course you have similar economic problems in Finland to us here in the UK – the funding for all of our services is being cut each year right across the board for mental health services, specialist drug and alcohol services etc but you appear to be coping better than us in the actual delivery of a homelessness service!

It was also interesting to speak to some of the individual project providers about the similar difficulties in securing funding each year for creative activities that are so important when looking at the holistic overall well-being of individuals who have experienced homelessness.

Did you get any useful ideas you can take back home to your own work in Doorway?

The most important message that I have brought back with me is Juha’s quietly confident optimism in that anything can happen so long as you believe.

I honestly think that the time is right in the UK for us to realise that we don’t currently have the answer to the increasing homelessness problem and that maybe, just maybe, we can start looking to the way Finland is operating and introduce a new way of tackling the issue.

However, it is vitally important that everyone works together from the very top( ie government) right down to the frontline service providers. That is going to take a lot of hard work and I truly hope that Doorway can play some small part in making this happen over the next few years.

My new mantra will be Juha’s belief that nobody has yet failed in the future. I think this sums up the Finnish mentality of pure optimism and belief in people’s ability to turn their lives around if they are just given the opportunity to succeed.

BBC Inside Out West

BBC Inside Out West

For a better understanding of how the Finnish Housing First model is working the best place to start is Juha’s TEDx talk recorded at an event in 2014

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Response to the official Government rough sleeper statistics from Doorway and Opendoor

Doorway and Opendoor’s response to the newly published annual rough Government sleeper statistics.

The official government annual rough sleeping statistics were published yesterday  (25.01.17) following the count which took place in November 2016.

The official definition of the term “rough sleeper” used for the purpose of collecting data, is: “People sleeping, about to bed down (sitting on/in or standing next to their bedding) or actually bedded down in the open air (such as on the streets, in tents, doorways, parks, bus shelters or encampments).  People in buildings or other places not designed for habitation (such as stairwells, barns, sheds, car parks, cars, derelict boats, stations, or “bashes”).

There are two methods in which this data can be collated – an estimated method and an actual physical count. The former involves specialist agencies, who routinely engage with rough sleepers, submitting information to the local authority based upon self-declared accommodation status. This information is an accurate figure due to the very nature of the relationships established between the agencies and the service users during the months leading up the night of the count.

The actual method of counting is impossible to be conducted due to the rural nature of a county like Wiltshire. In this county rough sleepers are not visible in the same way that they are in the larger towns. Rough sleepers will do whatever they can to remain safe on the streets and therefore they will be hidden away in areas that are not frequented by the public at night. This has meant that it is virtually impossible to conduct an actual count due to the fact that it is not feasible to go traipsing around woods, fields, laybys etc in the middle of the night trying to find someone sleeping in a tent or car.

Both methods of counting, in the north of the county, took place on the night in November with the two specialist agencies, Doorway and Opendoor, carrying out the estimated method and the Local Authority carrying out the actual count on foot in the two town centres of Chippenham and Devizes. Subsequently, there were shown to be significant discrepancies between the two figures with the actual method producing lower results.

Unfortunately, Wiltshire Council opted to submit the lower figures to central government despite our two organisations raising concerns regarding the validity of the statistics. 

Specifically we raised concerns regarding the following:

  1. The narrow definition of the term ‘rough sleeper’ excludes “people in hostels or shelters, people in campsites or other sites used for recreational purposes or organised protest, squatters or travellers”. Because the definition includes people in derelict buildings, both Doorway and Opendoor included several rough sleepers who were known to be sleeping in buildings which met this criteria.  However, the council redefined those individuals as “squatters” meaning they were subsequently eliminated from the final figures.
  2. A number of rough sleepers were known to be sleeping rough in rural areas which weren’t visited by council officials on the night of the count and were thus eliminated from the submitted figure.
  3. Several of the Chippenham based long term rough sleepers moved across the county boundary into Bath the week before the count and were not included in the Wiltshire figures or in the Bath figures since they were not yet engaging with the homelessness services in the neighbouring city. Two long term Devizes rough sleepers also moved out of the county to other Local Authorities the week before the night of the count and possibly were also eliminated from the national figures.

In addition we are raising general concerns regarding the following factors:

  1. Rough sleepers often alternate between staying out on the streets and sofa surfing depending on whether they can access accommodation with friends or family. It is therefore only a 50/50 chance as to whether they can be recorded as rough sleeping on any given night.
  2. Due to both the rural nature of the county and the chaotic lifestyles of those living on the streets, people often do not regularly engage with specialist services in the main towns. Therefore, it is impossible to produce an actual figure on just one night of the year. Very often our rough sleepers will also disappear for a period of time before once again re-engaging with our services.
  3. Specialist support services only exist in three of Wiltshire’s towns, Chippenham, Devizes and Trowbridge in addition to the main service located in the city of Salisbury. Other large towns such as Corsham, Calne, Melksham and all the smaller villages, are not able to provide estimated or actual figures for the night of the count due to the absence of any specialist organisation. We know that there are people sleeping rough throughout the county who are not engaged with daycentres and therefore excluded from the annual statistics.

On a positive note, both our organisations worked very closely with Wiltshire Council and the two hostels in the county, in the weeks leading up the day of the count, in order to successfully accommodate a number of rough sleepers and we will continue to do so. A newly appointed outreach worker has also recently been recruited by the council to help facilitate inter-organisational working relationships and positive outcomes for supporting rough sleepers in the county.

Whilst the government and local authorities produce annual statistics it is worth remembering that behind every one of those figures is an actual human being. At both Doorway and Opendoor, we regularly hear heartbreaking accounts of the complex stories leading up to someone’s current situation. We witness first hand the effects of the devastation, the frustration and the desperation caused by the inadequacies of a system which routinely sets people up to fail as they attempt to navigate the way out of homelessness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Charity, Chippenham, Devizes, Homelessness, News, Uncategorized, Wiltshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment