SHAN, Homelessness in Southend and my involvement

Yesterday, was a significant time for me personally as I stood down from being chair of SHAN.

I began my third career as a community activist (I was a teacher and a software engineer prior to then) after the turn of the Millennium. My early interest was mental health before branching out to other areas of community involvement, including helping the homeless. Until recently, my main activities concerning homelessness included managing a night shelter and chairing a soup kitchen, which I gave up during the Covid lockdown period, as it was evident the way things were done needed to change. I have passed on the reigns of SHAN to a new chair, who I am confident will do a good job.

Southend Homeless Action Network (SHAN) began in 2008 when a few of us found there were a number of homeless people, typically single folk, who we got to meet, not getting the help they needed, and it was our response to an evident need and dealing with the gaps that were present. I believe we have made a difference during those 15 years, in which we have seen the start of many new initiatives to help homeless and vulnerable folk, and a broad spectrum of concerned citizens doing their bit to help. Seeing this and supporting such folk has been one of the joys of my homeless activism. It never ceases to amaze me that those who do help have experienced many different life journeys, come from a wide range of backgrounds, are of all faiths and none and between them offer a complete mishmash of world views. While egos and agendas come into it, it has been heartening to note, despite the differences, people do get on, being united in bringing the homeless to a better place.  

One thing I no longer do to anywhere near the same extent, when compared to when I started out, is to be active on the proverbial coal face, partly due to advancing years but more these days due to poor health. I am also conscious that one of life’s rich lessons I have learned is the need to let go of things we deem important and allow others carry on. Even so, I am not planning to put my feet up given the needs and opportunities are as great as they ever were and there are still things I can still do, such as mentoring and supporting the new kids on the block and doing some sort of pastoral role for homeless and vulnerable folk and those helping them, many I have got to know over the years. As for yesterday’s meeting, attended by nearly 30 from different voluntary and statutory organisations, it demonstrated SHAN was still doing what is written on the tin. It deals with the city of Southend; it is focused on homelessness, including its triggers; it is about action (as opposed to merely talking about issues) and it facilitates networking (evidenced by members of different organisations working together and/or, when knowing what the needs are, committing to doing so in the future).

Besides a good deal of positivity being highlighted during the two hours we spent, the gaps that were noted back in the day remain even if taking on a different dynamic. Homelessness and the threat of becoming so, including the triggers that cause this in the first place and the challenges faced once people are accommodated, ever remain. One gap noted, and it wasn’t even an item on the agenda, is a lack of support for immigrants that do not qualify for benefits and not allowed to work. This has become a political issue for all the wrong reasons and often availability of accommodation depends on the wherewithal to pay for it. At least two of the relative newcomers in terms of running projects that are aimed at helping the homeless, told us of how at the start they were discouraged from getting involved by some because it was considered there wasn’t a need, only to discover the need was far greater than they first thought.

Having “got it off my chest” and begun to set the record straight, all is left is to thank the many who have supported me over the years in addressing the potential minefield called homelessness. I wish all those that help the homeless all the best in their endeavours and assure them of my support in my dotage. As some will know, one of my favourite characters of history is Jeremiah, the Hebrew doom and gloom prophet. As we look at the craziness all around us and the baddies seeming to have a field day, it is good to be reminded that we can make a difference and the fact many are gives me hope.

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