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 Open Road is one of the many members.

Above: Hand reaching out to offer support

As the country unlocks and the streets of Chelmsford become busier, Open Road are continuing to work as hard as ever to keep those who are vulnerable or sleeping rough safe and out of harm’s way on our streets. Their Outreach Worker liaises with partner agencies to ensure people have support, gives help to those requiring substance misuse treatment and promotes harm reduction.

Open Road provide support to those on their journey to recovery from drug and alcohol addiction and have centres all over Essex and in Medway, Kent. They seek to aid individuals and their families to lead healthy and more meaningful lives, free from addiction, offending behaviour and disadvantage, to ensure healthier, happier lifestyles If you or anyone you know needs help, you can visit the Open Road website to find out more and get in contact with a member of the team.

We recently spoke to Leigh Harvey, Manager at Open Road, who explained more about the incredible work that the charity has been doing. She talks about the challenges they faced during the lockdowns and their involvement in the Homelessness Forum, as well as the incredible work the charity does on a daily basis…

What does Open Road do?

Open Road is an established drug and alcohol recovery support charity who provide services for individuals on their journey to recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. We support those in the criminal justice system, the night time economy with our SOS buses, at music festivals with Welfare and give guidance to employers on Wellbeing in the workplace. There is a broad spectrum of help available.

What services do you provide for the homeless in Chelmsford?

We have an outreach worker who works with people who are homeless to see what services they are already in contact with, what help they need and whether they have any addiction issues. He also identifies different hotspots where, there may be an influx of homeless people, that other services are not aware of. Our outreach worker has become very trusted amongst the homeless community and his main priorities are to protect the safety of those on the streets, ensure they have access to services, and when needed support them into our centre for treatment.. He also makes sure people are registered to a GP.

We always treat our service users on a personal level, in a confidential environment where they feel safe and secure. We take a holistic approach and gain an understanding of their living situations, whether they are on benefits and if they are abusing a certain type of substance. We take all of these into consideration when helping those in need. At Open Road we look at each situation individually and have a targeted support system.

We have many programmes available such as the Needle and Syringe Exchange which allows the person to sit down with us and tell us how much they are using and how often. Then we give them advice, harm minimisation and clean equipment if we feel it is safe to do so. We provide disposable bins to protect themselves and residents from exposure to dirty needles.

Interestingly, in Chelmsford many of the users of this programme (around 40%) are those who use and are addicted to steroids. Many people are unaware that this is a rising issue and we focus on harm minimisation, the complexities of its use as it can affect an individual’s organs.

How long have you been part of the Homelessness Forum? Have you found it useful?

We have been part of the Homelessness Forum since July 2020. In this time, we have continued to build on our good relationship with the other agencies, and we all talk regularly to ensure we have the most updated information on the individuals on our streets. It is crucial that we work in a cohesive manner with the other members of the Homelessness Forum and use each other’s expertise accordingly. Sharing information is very important to ensure the correct help is given to the vulnerable.

We work in partnership with CHESS, Sanctus and the Chelmsford City Council housing street navigator as this helps us well stay informed and working towards the same goal.

Have your services been heavily impacted by the pandemic? How have Open Road dealt with these changes?

The pandemic stopped a lot of face-to-face appointments which was challenging as this was the best way for us to connect and help individuals. Support groups and drop in services were stopped which proved to be difficult for the service users to adapt to.

However, we were able to adapt and become flexible with digital and online services. We changed many of our face-to-face appointments to phone and video calls and this particularly helped those who lived far from our centres. Our appointments changed so that around 52% of clients were now being seen in person rather than the usual 99-100% of people but it enabled us to give continued support through the pandemic.

For those without access to these resources, we still had our centres open so that those that were prescribed, had complex risks or were vulnerable could still attend and have our support. We never shut our doors to those who needed us most.

From feedback, there are elements from the pandemic that we will take on board in the future. In some cases, telephone calls are sometimes easier for the individual as well as video calls. Our SOS bus was used to deliver Covid vaccines too.

Above: Woman with mask on train

Are there any fundraisers or activities coming up?

Yes as this year is our 30 for 30 campaign (we aim to raise 30k for 30 years our charity has been operating) and We are still in the planning stages but more information will be available soon for our fundraising event at Chelmsford Cathedral in November 21. Each centre has staff undertaking fundraising activities and in July 5 of our team will be climbing Mount Snowden –

If anyone wants to donate, you can visit the Open Road website.

If you or someone you know needs help…

You can go onto the Open Road website where there is more information and an option for online self-referral.

You can also call the Chelmsford Centre on 01245 284772 or our central number is 0844 499 1323

Our services don’t just support those battling addiction, we also give support for family members. Addiction can be very complex and confusing and having the correct support is very important to help those around you on their journey to recovery.

By Charlotte Maltby

Charlotte writes stories about recycling and waste, parks, economic development, local democracy and planning.

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