Feature Article Assignment

The amount of people becoming homeless has shot up in recent times, as confirmed by a recent Freedom of Information request to Hull City Council which saw the number of people registered as homeless in Hull go up from 65 in the previous quarter to 114 currently.

Unfortunately these are only the known cases, there will be many, many more who haven’t registered that will swell that disturbing number further along with the amount of ‘Hidden Homeless’ who are either sofa surfing or staying in hostels in the short term.

So what can a person do when they first become homeless and what help is available to them and what issues lead to them becoming homeless in the first place?

Reasons for becoming homeless range from suffering domestic violence, being given an eviction warrant, repossession notice or notice to quit, you’ve been living with friends or family and they have asked you to leave.

Other problems can include you have nowhere to live together with your family or you’ve moved from another area but have no connection to Hull like having no family here or you’ve just been released from prison.

But the main growing problem is that your benefits are sanctioned which then sees the withdrawal of housing and council tax benefit which leaves you with massive arrears which are impossible to pay.

When you become homeless in Hull your first port of call should be to The Wilson Centre on Alfred Gelder Street to make a homeless presentation to a homeless team advisor, if you have nowhere to stay that night report there before 1pm Monday to Friday.

Upon making your homeless presentation you are likely to be given priority if you are considered vulnerable because of old age or mental or physical disability.

You will also be given priority if you have a history of institutionalisation, for instance prison or hospitals, have left your home because of a threat of violence, if you’re pregnant or have children or if you’re 16 or 17 years old.

Rough sleeper Craig Lee Thompson says he became homeless after his benefits were sanctioned two years ago around the time his mum died, he was sofa surfing for about six months but has been sleeping rough ever since, he said: “I’m only band 3 with the council because of the rent arrears I owe from when my benefits were sanctioned, now I’m just expected to go without.

“I feel like I’m being criminalised for being homeless because police are constantly threatening to arrest me if I don’t move on from wherever I’m sat at the time.

“Hopefully I will get into a hostel at some point and then I can turn my life around and get back to how I used to be with some money coming in and relying on myself and not having to beg to feed myself.”

To be classed as a rough sleeper by Hull City Council a person has to be sleeping, about to bed down, either sitting or laying in or on, or standing next to their bedding or actually bedded down in the open air.

They are also classed as rough sleepers if they are in tents, doorways, parks, bus shelters or an encampment or in a building or other places not designed for habitation such as stairwells, barns, sheds, car parks, cars, derelict boats or stations.

However the definition does not include people in hostels or shelters, people in camp sites or other sites used for recreational purposes or organised protests, squatters or travellers.

When a person makes a homeless presentation they are sent to Humbercare for assessment at their new hostel Westbourne House on Westbourne Avenue and, depending on availability and situation they can be offered a bed there, if not they can be sent to their night shelter on Roper Street where criteria differs because each person has to queue there each evening in the hope of getting a temporary bed.

There is a further option during the winter months until the end of February because if Roper Street Hostel is full qualifying people will be given a ticket to take to the Hull Homeless and Rootless Project (Hull HARP) night shelter at Dock House.

From the help being offered at these places and others like The Crossings people will get the chance to get into more secure housing such as the Hull HARP Aspire project.

Hull HARP Outreach worker Louise Cramond said: “When anybody comes to stay here or if they access the day services like the breakfast club or the Tuesday chill-out we will work with them beyond that.

“We try and get them to engage with us and other service users and get them onto the move-on programme and offer them other help depending on their specific issues.”

Other help available includes an out-of-hours service which can be accessed by calling 01482 300304 and there is also a website Humber Help which aims to help co-ordinate information-sharing between all those whose lives are affected by the chaos of homelessness and the wide variety of local organisations that provide services of support to those in need.

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Reflection, Council Reporting

I enjoyed the session on council reporting, we got a good insight into how councils are made up, the various levels and what roles each type of council fill.

We learnt about the differences between County Councils, District, Borough and City Councils and Parish and Town Councils and what services they each provide like bin collection, council housing, libraries, homeless services and roads etc…

It was interesting to find out about day-to-day running and policy and decision makers.

We spoke about each major party having its own ‘Group’ including offices and employing admin staff and policy researchers which was a bit of an eye-opener.

We also learnt that approximately a third of the council is elected every year and there are no elections every fourth year.

With councillors being democratically accountable to residents of the city and their ward and the overriding duty of councillors being to the whole community it got me thinking about some of the quite elitest attitude sometimes displayed by councillors towards the electorate, particularly that shown by a particular councillor in Hull City Centre when confronted by a lady about the lack of compassion shown for the homeless some months ago.

As a journalist I did very much agree with what the lady was saying particularly given my previous experiences in life, as a journalist I would have liked to push the councillor about what had been said but I was there to do another job so I had to remain professional throughout.

A Homeless and Root-Less Project

The Breakfast Club at Dock House was much the same as it has been all week with the same faces and myself, Ash and Dave serving the food and drink as usual.

Halfway through the Breakfast Club I got told to go out with Outreach worker Diane to pick up some bedding that was being donated by a lady who is moving house soon so that was another new thing for me to do.

When we got back to Dock House the Breakfast Club had finished and all the clients had left so it was back to jobs like sweeping and mopping the room where we serve the food and cleaning the kitchen, washing up and putting the pots away, it really doesn’t stop when the last person leaves.

Diane then took Dave away to go to the Aspire Project and, after they had left, Ash and myself set about the main job of the day that was reaching towards a critical level.

Our main job was to do as much weeding as we could manage out the back and down the side of Dock House as it was fast becoming overgrown. What made the job more difficult was that we were trying very much to pull up the roots to stop them growing back which proved very difficult in the majority of the weeds we pulled up.

Another problem down the side is the size of the bushes that had grown from the other side through the barriers, all we had tools-wise was a small trowel which we had to use to cut down the branches of the bushes which were growing over our pathway down the side of the building.

The further we went through the forest of weeds and bushes that had developed the more it felt like a battle that we were having to fight with a silent enemy.

After a stop for lunch we went back outside to keep battling our way through the job we were doing and the muscles and shoulders and backs ached more and more but kept getting punished as we kept going.

Eventually we welcomed some dark clouds and a good rainfall which heralded the end of the weeding for the day, although we were upset that we haven’t yet finished the job which we hope to return to on Tuesday.

Over lunchtime and then progressing into the afternoon Ash tried to explain to me what Sir Alan Turing achieved at Bletchley Park to break the Enigma code during World War 2, and his subsequent influence on modern computing which then led to the production of things like Java Script and Google Chrome apparently, that was a lot of fun having it explained to me by teacher Ash.

Yes I have had a good long soak in the bath before writing this, and yes my shoulders and back are still aching but I wish I didn’t have a day off tomorrow because I want to be helping the homeless as much as I possibly can!!

Homeless service under threat of closure

Six homeless people have said they, and many others, will have nowhere to go if a homeless shelter is closed down at the end of this month.

Hull Homeless and Rootless Project (Hull HARP) is due to close at the end of this month due to a lack of funding but service users want it open because it’s their only means of getting a bed for the night.

Gary Haagensen said; “I came out of prison on 3rd February after doing three months, I had two nights on the streets and the only reason I’m not on the streets now is because of this place, there’s nowhere else I can go!”

Chris Sever was in prison for four and a half months and was released on 19th December; “I had nowhere else to go so I came here,”

Hubert Lawanson was released from prison on 27th January and came to the night hostel for the first time tonight and also said there was nowhere else he could go.

The homeless problem, however, reaches much further than just people who have just come out of prison.

David Wilkinson became homeless on 19th November because his benefits were put under sanction and he found himself unable to pay his rent and bills, he said; “I haven’t got anywhere else I can go, I’m not well so they put me up in the sick room here;”

John Daddy lost his council flat in 2013, he was sofa surfing for a while and then just sleeping rough and has been going to stay at Dock House since it reopened in the run up to Christmas but again he says there’ll be nowhere for him to go if it closes down again.

Malcolm Geoffrey Stork said he’s been let down by his probation officer who was apparently more interested in “Having a cup of coffee;” than helping him with a housing application.”

Mr Daddy also said; “They need to set up a bonding process again so people can get help with paying a bond to secure accommodation.

Mr Sever said it “Winds me up more than anything else;” when he sees an empty council property.

A member of Dock House staff said he couldn’t speak about the projects current situation but someone would be able to speak to the manager the next morning.

Mr Wilkinson also said that it offers help such as getting regulars into hostels, an outreach service which sees staff going out to give hot drinks to people who are out on the streets at night and a breakfast club for people who have been on the streets overnight.

While I was there talking to them a man arrived in a white van and handed out 5 meals from a fish and chip shop, including sausage and chips, pattie and chips and fish and chips.

As a previously homeless person myself I know how much these people are suffering, almost feeling crushed by life itself, something needs to be done to save this service and very quickly.

Feature article assignment

This following article would be written for the magazine called Real People. The target audience would be the over 30s especially those who have an interest in the problem of homelessness and also those who are maybe not aware of how much of a problem it still is. As of 2014 it is estimated that nearly 27,000 people are homeless in the UK that have been accounted for, unfortunately there are likely to be many more that we don’t yet know about. There are many council run services and also voluntary and largely church led services that aim to help people living rough and now a new service has been set up by a group in Hull to help combat this growing problem and try to get people off the streets and out the hostels and into their own home. The Genesis Project has been set up by Hull man Jerome Whittingham. When I spoke to him Mr Whittingham came across very passionately about his hopes for the new mentoring service which came about from a discussion between 12 people from different churches in Hull City Centre. Mr Whittingham said “There’s not much daytime activity to help homeless people so we discussed possibly opening a day centre but we don’t have anywhere near enough funding for that so we decided on the mentoring scheme instead. “We will put volunteer mentor’s 1 to 1 with homeless people, the idea is for the mentor and the service user to have weekly meetings so mentor’s can be a point of contact and stability. “The weekly meeting is meant to be creative, whether it be to encourage the person to use a creative skill they might have, acquire things like clothes or even furniture should they get a tenancy or just go to something like a creative writing course each week.” The Genesis Project is going to work alongside a service called Community Links who provide adult learning at William Booth House hostel as well but the overriding factor behind the project is to get homeless people into a tenancy and off the streets or out of the various hostels in the area. Mentor’s will also signpost clients to services such as charities who can help them once they achieve a tenancy but they will still also be able to use the Genesis Project mentor’s for as long as they feel they need them. The idea is that the Genesis Project will add support to what is already available. Church volunteer’s like at a soup kitchen will contact Mr Whittingham if they see someone attending there or at their church regularly who they believe may benefit from the service provided by the project. The service is available now and so far they have recruited 6 volunteer mentors but they don’t see any reason why that can’t be doubled in time. The project is receiving funding from the Church Urban Fund. Mr Whittingham is currently working three days a week developing the project and he is in charge of co-ordinating the mentors. He tells me that mentor’s expenses will be funded to a point but they don’t get a great deal of funding. There is also a hope that they would like to get mentors and clients together to go to any sort of artistic event. “We’re not jumping on the 2017 bandwagon but there are classes and events that do require attending and there will be lot’s of opportunities during City of Culture and that includes for people using our service so if there is an opportunity for them they will be encouraged to grab it.” Said Mr Whittingham. I also asked him about the few rough sleepers who appear to choose that way of life for whatever reason. He said “I know there are certain people living rough who don’t want to change their lifestyle at the moment but I hope that the project will be running for many years to come and hopefully as they get older and more vulnerable to illness they will decide to do something about their situation.” Jerome tells me that other projects that give emergency supplies like clothes, blankets, hot food and drink are still, and will continue to be, very important but the Genesis Project is hoping to be a more permanent answer to the homeless problem that exists in Hull. According to the Shelter website the most commonly held view about why people become homeless is due to that persons failings, when actually the truth is far different. There are many different personal and social factors that can contribute towards a person becoming homeless these may include any of the following factors. Individual factors such as, lack of qualifications or social support, debt- especially mortgage or rent arrears, poor physical and mental health, relationship breakdown or getting involved in crime at an early age. Family background including family breakdown and disputes, sexual and physical abuse in childhood or adolescence, having parents with drug or alcohol problems or previous experience of family homelessness. Institutional background like, having been in care, previously served in the armed forces or been in prison. There are also structural factors that can cause a person¬†to become homeless. Structural causes of homelessness are social and/or economic in nature and are often outside of the control of the individual and family concerned. They include unemployment, poverty, a lack of affordable housing, housing policies, the structure and administration of housing benefit or wider policy developments such as the closure of long-stay psychiatric hospitals. These problems require long-term policy solutions such as changes in the housing benefit system, the building of more affordable homes and ensuring that a wider cross-section of society benefits from the fruits of economic growth. The website goes on to say the three main reasons given by applicants for homelessness support from local councils are, Parents, friends or relatives unwilling or unable to accommodate them, relationship breakdown including domestic violence or loss of an assured shorthold tenancy. However these reasons are only the catalysts that trigger people into seeking assistance, and not the underlying reason that have caused the crisis to build up in the first place. For many people there’s no single event that causes sudden homelessness. Instead homelessness is due to a number of unresolved problems building up over a period of time. Mr Whittingham said there are maybe about two dozen council and voluntary services in Hull to help the homeless but they are more geared towards providing temporary relief which could be misconstrued as making rough living seem like a more viable option rather than actually reducing numbers of people who are homeless. There is a belief within the project staff that the specific problems that lead people into homelessness are better to be dealt with once the person has found suitable accommodation and is no longer living rough. Mr Whittingham went on to say, “We want to help people who have a chaotic way of life and get them standing on their own two feet, but the service we aim to provide won’t stop there, if a person believes we can still help them once they have a roof over their head we will still be there to help for as long as they need us.” There are other services for the homeless in Hull including a project called the Futures Project and there is also Humbercare who provide support once a person has found accommodation among many other projects. Now homeless people in Hull have another service to rely on.