I haven’t had a chance to write a blog for a long time, and hope to write a bit more this summer, but I really wanted to write in support of the 999 club’s Summer Shelter Appeal. There’s still some time to donate- please read on and help out if you are able.xxx
The Campaign- please help the 999 club in Deptford
This summer the 999 Club, a charity supporting homeless people in Deptford and South East London, launched an crowd funding campaign to raise £20 000 to fund a summer Night Shelter. Rapidly increasing homelessness in Lewisham this year has resulted in the capacity of the Night Shelter doubling since January, and the charity aims to extent the Night Shelter to provide year round support by 2019.
Why a summer shelter?
The risks of sleeping out during the cold winter months are well documented, but less well known are the difficulties experienced by homeless people in the summer months. Warm, light and busy summer nights mean fewer places for homeless people to sleep out undisturbed. There are risks of dehydration and heat related illnesses, with homeless people reporting a much higher risk of violence. It’s light earlier too, which means by 4 or 5am rough sleepers are moved on by authorities and park keepers.
What rough sleeping can do to you
Rough sleeping is a terrifying and devastating experience, with negative impacts on both mental and physical health and personal safety. Homeless people are more likely to die young, with an average age of death of 47 years old for men and just 43 years old for women, compared with 77 for the general population, 74 for men and 80 for women.*
Why are so many people homeless?
In the past five years rough sleeping is at its highest since records began. The number of people seen rough sleeping by outreach teams in Lewisham was nearly four times higher in 2016/7 than 2011. There was a 270% increase in the number of people seen rough sleeping in Lewisham in 2016/17 compared to 2017/8.
Key factors include changes to the welfare benefits system and the local housing market. The housing benefit cap means there’s a huge disparity between local housing allowance and market rent. There’s a dire shortage of social housing, and rents in the private sector are rising fast. As reported by the Lewisham Poverty Commission, evictions from the private rented sector are driving homelessness in Lewisham. One in every four people in Lewisham earns less than the living wage, making them extremely vulnerable to homelessness.
What it’s like for women
There are now increasing numbers of women amongst the homeless community. This includes women who are fleeing domestic violence, or who have disabilities or health problems.
Homeless women are even more vulnerable on the street than men. A recent survey found that nearly a quarter of women sleeping rough had been sexually assaulted in the past year, and three in 10 had experienced sexual violence at some point while homeless.
As well as this there are several unique challenges for homeless women: including what it's like to have a period without access to supplies, and what it's like to monitor your behaviour due to greater fear of sexual assault.
Women at the 999 Club
This is where the 999 Club can change lives. As well as offering a safe haven to sleep, the club offers a day centre with breakfast, showers, laundry and computer facilities, help with benefit and housing issues, plus job searches and skills development.
Giselle’s story(her name has been changed to protect her identity)
Giselle, 46, from Sydenham has been in the 999 Club’s night shelter since early May this year, after leaving her shared accommodation without any of her clothes or personal belongings.
While she has been at the 999 Club, staff have applied and paid for a new birth certificate for her, as well as helped her apply for a new copy of her passport and other identification, and assisted her in opening a Credit Union account. The charity has paid her travelling expenses, is supporting her job hunting and is in the process of trying to find her new accommodation.
It is the second time in three years that Giselle has been homeless, since she became ill with a tumour on her spine which left her unable to work and she fell behind on rent and bill payments.
“I was ill and hospitalized with two big operations, which meant I couldn’t pay my rent and my benefits were stopped. I was evicted, I’m embarrassed to say,” she says, describing her first period of homelessness in 2015.
Previously employed in the mental health and education sectors, as well as doing administration jobs, Giselle said she had worked hard to pay her own bills prior to her illness.
“I have always been paranoid about not being able to pay my rent. I’m not a couch potato. I was a person who worked hard most of my life,” she said.
Her first period of homelessness was “awful”, Giselle said.
“I was sleeping rough around Cutty Sark. It’s not right for a female to be homeless. I saw a lot of things then. I was out in the snow, rain, thunder.
“You don’t feel safe at all. I was going to secluded places to hide, because you don’t want people to find you. They weren’t safe really, but when you are in this situation, your logic goes.”
Giselle eventually found accommodation, however she found the £200 -a-week rent too much to keep up with, which led to her second period of homelessness.
“It was awful circumstances. The house was falling to bits – water would pour down inside the house. The other tenants were inconsiderate – noisy and loud. And I was short of the rent every week. The situation was hard – I was feeling helpless, I felt I couldn’t deal with it all. I walked out.
“I was on the street - I moved around so people wouldn’t see me. I didn’t sleep, but I would sit on a bench. In this situation, the cognitive side of you dies.”
Since arriving at the 999 Club, she has also been given some clothes. “These are things I wouldn’t usually wear, but sometimes these sort of things make you look at what is important, and what isn’t
“It’s a good job that there are places like this (the 999 Club). I was on the streets during the storms. The weather was horrendous, the thunder very dangerous.
“I feel more revived (now). If you feel you have a goal and are working towards something productive you feel better. I don’t feel as exhausted as I did. Now I have things to apply for.
“I have been paranoid about being homeless my whole life. Now, my priority is finding accommodation. I have always been independent and I want to find a place to give me some stability. But I need to be able to afford the rent,” she said.
What you can do to help
Here are three ways you can help:
1.If you are able to, please donate to the 999 clubs appeal here:
2. Don’t ignore people- don’t rush by because you can’t spare any money- one of the worst and most dehumanizing things about being homeless is being ignored. Stop, say hello, ask how someone is, have a chat. Don’t underestimate the power of a kind and friendly word.
3. follow the 999 Club on twitter @The999club and keep up with news and appeals
*excerpt from Crisis report. https://www.crisis.org.uk/media/236799/crisis_homelessness_kills_es2012.pdf