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"Welcoming strangers into our own homes"
As winter begins to bite, Bradford sees the launch of a new Christian organisation which is detemined to help people in the city who find themselves without a roof over their heads.
Sleeping rough in Bradford...
Jenny is 59. At a time when she was unable to work because of health problems her landlord told her she had to leave her house because he was selling up. After a few weeks of staying with friends, in a B&B and a night in a hostel - she was told she didn't qualify for a longer stay because she was not a priority - Jenny found herself sleeping rough at Bradford Interchange. She says: "It was the most depressing time in my whole life. I'd never been in this situation before and I didn't know where to go. That was the night I really did feel as if I was on my own and felt very low. I felt so vulnerable, I didn't dare go to sleep. I just walked about, sat and waited until the morning."
Jenny might well have had to spend more nights out on the street but the next day she was introduced to Helen Syrop who took Jenny into her own home for the next two weeks. She was not only provided with a roof over her head but advice and support in finding housing, applying for benefits and generally getting her life back on track.
Helen: Working with Bradford's homeless
Now Helen Syrop is launching a new Christian organisation, Hope Housing, to help tackle Bradford's homelessness problems. Helen says until now it's been very difficult for people like Jenny to find help: "A project called Nightstop is doing a great job at helping people access emergency accommodation in people's homes across Bradford. However, that service isn't available for people aged 26 or over. A lot of the hostels in Bradford are often full so people have a lot of difficulty getting into that emergency accommodation in hostels so the service we are providing this winter will be short term accommodation in people's homes across Bradford just as a stopgap so people don't have to sleep out on the streets and before they can access more secure accommodation."
As part of her university degree Helen explored the issues surrounding begging in Bradford and for the last four years she's been working in the field of housing support as well as helping out with several related projects on a voluntary basis. But, during that time, Helen and her husband have also been taking people like Jenny into their home. She says: "I suppose we've been developing a small scale provision within our own home. From seeing the need at the homeless project I help out at, and wanting to help other people to do the same thing we've been doing, that's really given me the inspiration to help resource other people so they can help homeless people."
Hope Housing is looking for volunteers across Bradford, and who have a spare room, to allow a homeless person to stay with them for just one night. On the following day Hope Housing will help the homeless person find advice agencies and more permanent accommodation and, Helen adds: "Look at the barriers that prevent them assessing accommodation."
Helen believes that, for Christians, helping Bradford's homeless is not optional: "The main aim of the project is to house homeless people, to stop people sleeping rough on the streets of Bradford, or at least go some way to having a better service for the poor in our city. Hope Housing is a Christian charity and from a Christian perspective the Bible is quite clear on how we should be welcoming strangers into our homes, and how we should be welcoming and supporting those that have less than ourselves." She accepts that not everyone is in a position to open up their homes in to others but there are many other ways volunteers can help make the project a success.
Getting more people involved: Hope Housing
As well as setting up a regular list of Christian people willing to provide a night's rest in their own homes, Hope Housing wants to provide long-term help for Bradford's homeless by buying up houses. In partnership with Green Pastures, a national charity, they are starting with one house which will provide safe accommodation for two people. Helen says: "The aim is to partner with local churches to help support those people to be able to live independently and help relieve some of the pressure in the hostels. It's a very small project to start off with, but I'm hoping it will grow and grow, and churches across Bradford will be able to meet the needs of the poor if possible."
And, Helen says, you don't have to be a Christian to support the project - you just need to want to help and be in a position to do so.
But why do people end up sleeping rough on the streets of Bradford? Helen believes a lot of people are made homeless not through their own fault but through a combination of unfortunate circumstances: "I think one of the main reasons is through a relationship breakdown within the home...Falling out with family members, breakdown in marriages are massive problems in causing homelessness. There are also other related issues like people losing their tenancies, people getting evicted, people having mortgage arrears and debt. Drug and alcohol problems, and mental health issues also add to the cooking pot of somebody not having anywhere to live."
Now, having returned to work and living in sheltered accommodation, the once homeless Jenny agrees: "I used to look at other homeless people and think, 'they must be able to get some accommodation, but I didn't know until it happened to me, just how hard it is'. The church helped me and people were praying for me and they helped me to have the strength to face up to things."
last updated: 11/11/2008 at 15:53