As wintry weather continues across the Horsham district, the success of the winter night shelter has highlighted the need for a more permanent solution to helping homeless people in the Horsham district.
Throughout December, January and February around 250 volunteers from churches in the town and surrounding villages came to St John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Springfield Road, Horsham, to help up to eight people who found themselves homeless each night.
The Horsham Churches Together steering group, which managed the project with the charity Horsham Matters, soon found they were helping to address a more complex need than they had first thought.
Project co-ordinator Hazel Lamb said: “We helped a total of 16 people and had on average four people a night. We had 21 churches involved. I think it was the most amazing success.
“When we do the work how Jesus would do it, we stop arguing about the details and just get on with it.”
But despite its success, the team found they only scratched the surface.
Last week for example Horsham District Council knew of 89 homeless households in priority housing need, six of which have dependent children.
Hazel continued: “My report that has to be considered raises a number of issues. I hope there will be offers of money, skills, accommodation so that we can offer a service that will really meet the complex needs here.
“I would like to see something more permanent. A night shelter is not enough.”
Many of the people staying were connected with the Horsham charity Ark, which reaches out to those struggling with addictions, homelessness and associated life issues.
Hazel said: “Ark already had a relationship with them and also trust, but what Ark needed and had been pushing for was the night element.
“I think some people predicted the project would help people who had fallen on hard times. Having been in social work for 40 years I was less convinced. It’s homelessness intertwined with those more complex issues.”
These issues included links to alcohol abuse and also impaired mental health.
Hazel said: “I do worry about the provision of mental health services. We are facing an epidemic. People get desperate.
“It’s difficult, but being in a more rural area, we don’t get the same focus as other areas.”
Ark’s co-founder and director Lisa Burrell, who is still working with some of the night shelter guests today, also had concerns.
“It’s been wonderful to see the churches in the town meet the needs of those who are most vulnerable. I slept better this year than I have in previous years when they’ve been on my floor.
“We learnt that there’s a level of need in people who are homeless that we need to understand in order to help them address their problems, take up their place in society and secure long term accommodation.
“It’s quite difficult to engage with mental health services even when the Ark family is adamant this is the sort of help they need,
“Once they’ve been in the night shelter and get somewhere to sleep at night, they feel a little more able to access those services, but the referral process is not good.
“The other issue faced by more than one person is ‘duel diagnosis’. Here they are required to address their drug or alcohol abuse prior to accessing mental health services, but it’s very often the underlying mental health condition that causes it in the first place.”
She said their work continues throughout the year.
Lisa added: “Just because the night shelter is closed, that doesn’t mean we have stopped. It actually means we have lost the ability for people who find themselves homeless to have a platform from where they can address the issues they face.
“Ark will be there as it has been for the past two and a half years, but what we would love to see is permanent provision of this nature.
“We need our own building, to be here seven days a week where we can provide accommodation as needed.”
Ark has drop in sessions on Monday 9am to 3pm, Tuesday 2pm to 8pm and Thursday 9am to 4pm at the United Reformed Church in Springfield Road.