“When you live on the street you really crave belonging.” introducing a new £10m grant scheme – Helping End Homelessness
The National Lottery Community Fund is launching a new £10m grant scheme called Helping End Homelessness – aimed at addressing the causes and impact of homelessness. The scheme will encourage charities and agencies to work with local authorities and with people experiencing homelessness, to address the causes of homelessness. The grants, which are made possible thanks to National Lottery players, will be aimed at trying to stop people ending up on sofas, in bed and breakfasts and even the streets by intervening in a positive way. To access the grants, organisations will need to work together and involve people who are already experiencing homelessness and those at risk, in planning strategies to avoid ending up in a perilous and stressful situation.
Omar knows first-hand quite how stressful being homeless is. He was living on the streets through the bitterly cold winter of 2010, the coldest January in over 30 years with snow laying on the ground. Omar remembers having walked to the edge of Cardiff looking for somewhere to stay overnight:
“They wouldn’t open the door to me!” he says “so I walked back into town to try and find somewhere to keep warm. I could see people inside their houses settling down in the warm in front of their TVs and I would have given anything to be inside.”
A broad smile spreads across his face
“Now I have my own peaceful flat… and I got a nice big TV!”
Omar credits his rehabilitation to the different organisations that have worked with him. The Wallich have helped him with training sessions and are now providing the supported accommodation he calls home, he volunteers with them several times a week, working with people still on the streets. But it is his work with Behind the Label that he particularly wants to talk about. Behind the Label is a project run by Theatre Versus Oppression in partnership with the Millennium Centre and supported by The Wallich.
“I am awake again!” he says “When you live on the street, you really crave to belong… to be loved. It makes you so vulnerable to people who give you fake love, like drug dealers! Two of my good friends – one from the Valleys and one from the Docks, we used to stand together against the cold like penguins do, keeping warm with huddling. They died from drug overdoses on the streets that Winter.
“Behind the Label helped me trust people again, I used to be too afraid to go in a shop and I would panic if someone stood behind me, now I have found my voice and in the performance I found myself. The others in that project, they are my brothers and sisters now, we have a WhatsApp group where we support each other all the time, every day. We are woken up now and I want to give back to others.”
Omar goes on to explain that he is conquering his own addiction and putting some money aside which his probation officer sends to his son, who he doesn’t see at the moment. He speaks hopefully about rebuilding his relationship with his kids, adding
“Behind the Label hands you back your own voice and your confidence. It’s not too late to start again!”
Omar’s story shows how complex the experience of homelessness is. The National Lottery Community Fund in Wales already gives grants to organisations – such as The Wallich and Theatre Versus Oppression – helping people deal with the impacts of homelessness, also to organisations which address some of the complex issues which can lead to homelessness, the new fund however, is intended to work in a different way. Robert Roffe Head of Knowledge and Learning for the Fund in Wales explained:
“We want to encourage organisations including charities, local authorities and housing associations to work directly with people with experience of homelessness to collectively stand back and look how they could use the limited resources on offer to them to try and stop people becoming homeless in the first place.
“Our research suggests that there are opportunities to engage earlier and more effectively. We want to use our grants to encourage everyone working in the field to assess if things can be done better; that’s why we are offering a grant for the development phase of the project. We hope the £10m available in grants will act as an incentive to encourage groups to work together to look at this.”
It seems that if services were better co-ordinated, vulnerable groups such as 18 year olds moving out of local authority care, people leaving prison and people effected by domestic abuse could be supported more effectively to avoid the trauma of becoming homeless.
To apply for the grants, organisations are initially being invited to form partnerships within their region. The National Lottery Community Fund are organising three events across Wales in February to put organisations in contact with others in their region, interested groups should contact The National Lottery Community Fund for details. The partnerships will then submit an expression of interest in the first phase of funding. The total of £10m will fund projects lasting five to seven years.
At a recent performance from Behind the Label, participants on the stage challenged the audience, asking:
“All my life people are asking about my story, over and over again, but no one really listens! Do you really think you’ve got it in you, to listen to what we’ve got to say?”
The National Lottery Community Fund hope that Helping End Homelessness may encourage the right people to listen.
To find out more about Helping End Homelessness, visit www.tnlcommunityfund.org.uk/helping-end-homelessness