A roof over our heads is one of the most basic necessities of life and wellbeing. The security, shelter, and warmth of having a home enables a person to function well in work and in personal relationships.
Yet, for as many as 300,000 people in Britain, having somewhere dry and secure to live is beyond reach. This week, Catholic charity, the St Vincent de Paul Society (SVP England and Wales) is highlighting the needs of people who are homeless, raising awareness of those the charity helps with housing and related support.
People like Connor. Connor had voluntarily surrendered a well-paid job to provide full-time support to a terminally ill army colleague. However, after a series of unfortunate events, he found himself homeless, out of work and sharing accommodation with drink- and drug-dependent companions. Connor also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, bouts of depression and suicidal tendencies as a result of his experiences. His main concern when the SVP first met him was to re-establish contact with his three children, but with no home for them to come to, this was not a reasonable prospect at that time.
The SVP were able to find Connor a flat through the local authority and helped with furnishings as well as emergency financial support. Two years after the Society first met Connor, he says that his life has completely changed. Where he once felt lost and hopeless, he now feels calm and positive. He spends his days helping the people around him with everything from form filling to cleaning or decorating. But most important of all, his children are now regular visitors to his new home.
While the SVP was able to help Connor settle into a new home and reassemble his family life with his children, Richard was another homeless man who the SVP helped, this time after retirement.
Richard was in his mid-sixties with mental health problems. Formerly a chemist abroad, he had returned to England after separating from his wife, and found himself unable to work.
Initially based at the Missionaries of Charity hostel for the homeless in Central London, Richard became increasingly paranoid and concerned about the security of his possessions. He contacted the SVP group at St George’s Cathedral to ask if they could take care of his laptop and writing materials.
Slowly over time, the SVP befriended Richard and were able to offer him more comprehensive assistance. SVP volunteers accompanied Richard to GP appointments, meetings with his social worker and appointments with his psychiatrist. Eventually the SVP was able to identify that Richard had actually accrued a generous pension from his years at work but needed a bank account in order to receive the payments. Over a five month period, the group contacted a foreign welfare centre where Richard had previously stayed. The centre provided an address and referee details to help the SVP open a bank account for him.
Once in receipt of his pension, he was able to choose sheltered accommodation in Somerset where he wanted to live. Members accompanied Richard from London to Somerset to help him transfer his belongings, and now regularly drive over to the West Country to help with tasks such as buying and moving furniture. With a secure roof over his head, Richard’s mental health has improved and he has been able to settle well for the first time in years.
Without the friendship and practical assistance of the SVP, hundreds of people like Connor and Richard would be struggling in poverty and isolation. The goodwill, resources and network of charity that the SVP exists to provide, based on a strong Christian Vincentian spiritual tradition, mean that many, many people are able to turn their lives around and are given a second chance.
Paul Walker, an SVP member from St George’s Cathedral SVP group, Southwark, says: “We helped Richard lead the life he really wanted and had actually previously worked to support. With a mental illness and living in homelessness hostels he simply wasn’t able to move his life on. However, when we managed to help him open a bank account and access his pension savings, he was able to discover a happy, comfortable retirement in sheltered accommodation and consequently his health improved.”
Next week the SVP’s Beyond Boundaries Campaign focuses on the charity’s work with prisoners.
If you would like to find out more about the SVP, or support the charity in its work helping those most in need, visit svp.org.uk, telephone 020 7703 3030, or email [email protected].