Off the Streets and its hotel to accommodate the homeless
When the Southend Church Winter Night Shelters CWNS ended their 2017/2018 season (covering the four coldest winter months), there was a concern that guests would be once again back out on the streets. This was when Off the Streets was born (see here).
The City of Southend is blessed in that many of its citizens have a concern for the welfare of the not so well off, including its upward of 100 who sleep rough, despite the excellent work of charities, like HARP, in providing temporary accommodation and other support, and a local council, NHS etc., who despite constraints, seeking to address some of the needs. One significant response is by Off the Streets, who continued where CWNS left off (but allowing guests to smoke outside), using a church building for this purpose, before renting its own unit (505 London Road) accommodating 10 guests.
The Corona scamdemic put an end to this as the Council managed, in the main successfully, to temporarily accommodate known rough sleepers in hotels. This had its own challenges and, once again, Off the Streets stepped in to provide much needed support, which is ongoing to this day. This includes helping guests, who come from all walks of life and are there because of a wide range of triggers, find permanent accommodation, employment, training, meaningful activity, life skills and guidance, friendship, food parcels; addressing some of those areas that cause folk to be on the streets in the first place and stay there: life circumstances, mental illness, relationship breakdown, unemployment, drug and alcohol addiction.
According to a Southend Echo article (12th October 2021), titled: “Charity to buy hotel to help house the homeless in Southend”, we learned that “A CHARITY is set to buy a hotel to help temporarily house rough sleepers to combat the challenges thrown up during the Covid pandemic. Southend homeless charity Off the Streets was forced to close its homeless shelter off London Road in Westcliff due to fears of the virus spreading during the peak of the pandemic, but has kept its vital foodbank and outreach services running. Instead of re-opening the shelter, the charity will now be buying a hotel in the town to replace the communal sleeping, to house up to nine rough sleepers at a time”.
Ten months on, the aforementioned hotel has been acquired and renovation work has begun, due to complete by the end of the year. Today I visited the hotel, where Off the Streets held its AGM. In my retirement, I tend not to go to meetings where I don’t have a part to play, but decided to make an exception. There I met old friends: the energetic Del, the lovely Karen and the tenacious Kirsty, who began it all and all deeply involved ever since. I met a number of others, many well established professionally, who have joined since the beginning and are now using their skills to play important parts in the ongoing Off the Streets journey. I enjoyed the tour and the AGM and, to my surprise, was blown away by the financial report (a first for me) and how switched on they were in what needed to be done.
Well done Off the Streets for getting to this point and best wishes for the future! Well done for recognising where some of the gaps are and working to complement rather than compete with other charities. The homeless we will always have with us (it seems), as one person reminded us the real homeless figure is approaching pre-lockdown numbers, despite the various helps that are out there. It happened, shortly upon leaving, I met an old homeless friend, who told me of some of his own recent journey and his respect for what Off the Streets are doing, including his wish to help. Having met a number of folk, who before today I was not even aware off but are doing their bit to help, I take heart that amidst so much gloomy world news, there is so much good being done by people who take seriously the challenge and the call to help those who are in need.