In 2020, Chelmsford City Council formed a ‘Homelessness Forum’. This group brings together many people who are working to end homelessness in Chelmsford, from charities to emergency services.

By sharing knowledge and resources, they can do much more to help each person sleeping rough in the city. Local charity Sanctus is one of the many members.

The pandemic is in full swing. Chelmsford’s west end is quiet and empty, the shutters down on the shops and pubs, the buses pulling into the station mostly empty. But a few hundred yards away, there’s a small hive of activity.

In an unassuming building on Broomfield Road, the socially-distanced volunteers of Sanctus are preparing food and chatting to their regular clients. When you’re a charity helping vulnerable people, your work never stops.

Sanctus is a day centre serving about 250 vulnerable people in Chelmsford. It’s open seven days a week, 365 days a year, and has been named as an essential service during the pandemic. The charity provides food and drink every day to those in need. It also distributes clothes, toiletries, sleeping bags and other items – the little things that make a difference.

photo of person sitting near glass wall

Making change

Once someone is at Sanctus, they also have access to support to make bigger change to their lives. The day centre acts as a ‘hub’ for other agencies from the Homelessness Forum, who come in to offer their free services to its clients. Vulnerable people can get one-to-one mentoring, counselling and addiction and mental health support. They can also get help with getting and keeping somewhere to live, applying for benefits, furnishing homes, accessing health services, advice and advocacy. During the pandemic, some of these services have been delivered remotely.

Photo of Emma Hughes from Sanctus

“We work with some of the most marginalised people in our community. They feel comfortable coming to us to ask for help, meaning we can make sure they get the help they need. Our aim is to prevent homelessness by supporting individuals to take positive steps forward,” says Emma Hughes, Trustee and Support Hub Manager at Sanctus.

“Just one mentoring session may mean that someone completes a benefits form, reobtains their ID, decides against drastic steps or receives help or advice with their challenges. These all help to progress or further progress their journey in a positive way. Many of these support sessions were completed over the phone or in socially-distanced meetings in our courtyard. “

person holding miniature wooden bird house

Housing the homeless

During the pandemic, some people were housed in hotels for several months. Sanctus prepared food to be collected and delivered to them. Many who were housed in this way now have a more permanent home after being helped by the Homelessness Forum.

“People being given a property can often be the start of the challenge,” admitted Emma. “Keeping their homes once they have them is a key focus. We have helped furnish properties, sort benefits, address addictions and other challenges.”

The Covid-19 challenge for Sanctus

The coronavirus pandemic has been one of the biggest challenges that charities have ever faced. “But we were determined to be there for our clients,” said Emma. “When the first lockdown came, and shops closed, the challenges the homeless and vulnerable faced were bigger than ever. People who had housing, but also had complex needs, found the lockdown incredibly difficult. People who were on the street found their sources of food, funds and support had disappeared. These people were genuinely desperate.”

Sanctus asked their staff and volunteers if they wanted to continue working during the lockdown. Every single one said “yes.”

“Even those who needed to shield took some persuading to stay home,” said Emma, smiling. “After some Covid assessments, we switched to a takeaway service. The team came in every day, cooked and put food into takeaway containers.

“Some other services in our area of Essex had unfortunately had to close. So queues formed down the road for a hot meal. We realised for many, the meal we were giving out was the only food they were eating, so we increased our offer. We started giving breakfasts and packed lunches too.”

Sanctus are seeing new people coming each day. “We’re seeing the impact of domestic abuse and mental health crises, on top of financial hardship. These issues are nationwide and we intend to play our part in helping people.”

The charity is moving to bigger premises soon. You can donate to the effort here: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/ANewHomeForSanctus

Sanctus in numbers

IN 2020

16,900 freshly cooked meals served
15,000 products that would have gone to waste collected from local businesses and used
1,100 mentoring sessions
200 people given clothes and sanitary products

AND SO FAR IN 2021…

60 people helped by the Hub
15 housing applications completed
14 people given mental health support
12 phones provided to help people speak to the council and other agencies about their needs
11 different agencies working together to provide an ‘ecosystem’ of support
10 people helped with furnishing their homes
9 people helped into housing
6 people helped to apply for benefits
3 people helped to open bank accounts
3 people helped to register with a GP
3 people with complex needs given intensive support
2 domestic abuse survivors helped to secure housing

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