Rough sleeping in the UK has increased by 37% since 2010. This year alone, official figures reveal 2,414 people have been living on the streets and it is feared these will increase as cuts to benefits continue.
Stephen Hood, 50, of Hoole, Chester, was once homeless but eventually got his life back with the help of Chester Aid to the Homeless (CATH) but volunteering has been his mainstay ever since. This is one way in which homeless people struggling to find employment can improve their self-esteem, give back to the community and improve their skills.
CATH is situated at the Harry Tomlin’s Centre in Chester and has a great history of working with volunteers from the local community. CATH started in 1972 and has always relied on volunteers. Volunteers like Stephen, from their client base, also have the opportunity to help in a variety of ways.
Stephen volunteers with Christopher Goodwin, project leader of Citizen CATH which is a lottery funded pilot to beautify areas like Crispin House. Crispin House is a shared house offering supported accommodation. Christopher said: “This project is called Citizen CATH, the idea is through awards for all; it’s about encouraging citizenship groups that are marginalised. Encouraging people in the community to talk and look at each other and to join up and to get involved and be active and feel healthy.” Asked what it is like to work with Stephen he said: “Yeah it’s fantastic, Steve’s been in since day one.”
CATH plays a vital role for people who live on the streets. Those who have been fortunate enough to find accommodation can still go to CATH for help with finding employment, adult learning skills, clothing and life coaching.
Every Friday Stephen joins John Buchanan, Education manager at CATH, to volunteer at Clwyd special riding school in Llanfynydd, Wrexham.
John Buchanan said: “We try to create the condition or the normality that say a college would supply or maybe even a community school or a large family, we try to create that. But we’re actually really small but we still manage to actually present enough opportunities for people to get involved in different areas such as here at Clwyd, football, and activities during the day, computers, there’s a lot of things we can offer. Almost like an alternative curriculum.
We’ve been working every Friday at Clwyd Special riding centre for the disabled for about seven years. Basically Chester Aid to the Homeless client group come who are either vulnerably housed, homeless or people that are in secure tenancy but have mental health problems and still like to engage with our services.”
Asked what it’s like to work with Steve, John replied: “Very entertaining, Steve’s a really good worker, he’s a hard worker, and he’s got good experience and got knowledge of especially maintenance work so he’s very useful in specific areas such as this one, shoring up a fence. He is very enthusiastic, very positive.”
Thursdays Stephen volunteers at St. Marks Church, St. Marks Road, Lache/Saltney, Chester. Sharon Phillips said: “Steve comes in and prepares all the salads and preps everything for us; he’ll do dishes, basically Steve will do anything that we require him to do. He’s a very handy man; he’ll put his hand to anything basically. He fixes our fan every week and we’re in the process of getting that replaced.
There are lots of voluntary opportunities here, we feel for the homeless but not in a patronising way. We’re blessed to have what we’ve got, some people whatever reason they are homeless, we try and help them to either get back onto their feet or just take them in. At the end of the day it’s not their fault.
The Cafe is good food and good company and it’s for people to come and mingle and mix, you know it’s kind of an outreach as well.”