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No need for homeless to sleep in church halls this winter

This winter, people who are facing the prospect of sleeping rough in Chelmsford will have more help available to them than ever, with an array of support offered by members of the city’s Homelessness Forums.

The single person’s Homelessness Forum was formed by the city council in 2020, with a Families’ Forum now also underway. These are made up of agencies and charities who all have some involvement in supporting people who are sleeping on the streets or facing that possibility.  The council, NHS, police, Peabody, CHESS HomelessSanctus, and other agencies, charities and volunteer groups are all involved.

For the past 20 years, the council and CHESS have jointly provided extra winter beds in church halls in a scheme known as the Winter Project. This year, for the first time, these temporary beds shouldn’t be needed because of the amount and quality of other accommodation available, as long as there isn’t a big rise in those facing homelessness.

What’s being provided?

In the past year, more than forty additional beds have been added to the city’s available accommodation. People staying in these beds will have on-hand support from workers at CHESS, Housing Dilemmas and Helping Hands Essex. This means they can get one-to-one mentoring, help applying for benefits and accessing their funds, recovery services for any addiction or substance abuse issues, advice and signposting to help them overcome other challenges, and much more.

Eight self-contained apartments are being supplied for those with particularly complex needs and difficulty keeping their accommodation. In the past, the approach of many local authorities was to encourage people to deal with issues like substance abuse before offering them a home. Through Home Group, Chelmsford will follow a model mirroring aspects of “Housing First”, which offers a stable and secure place to live and immediate intensive direct support in helping them through the complex challenges they may be facing.

Fifteen beds will be available through Housing Dilemmas for ex-offenders who are at risk of living on the streets after leaving prison.

Earlier this week, it was announced that Nightstop is coming to Chelmsford. Run by national charity Depaul UK, Nightstop creates a safe way for people to provide a place to stay for a young person who’s at risk of becoming homeless. Volunteers are currently being sought for Nightstop.

Sadly, cases of domestic abuse sometimes lead to homelessness, particularly for women fleeing harmful relationships. Domestic abuse charity Safer Places and CHESS are now providing extra bedspaces for women sleeping rough for this reason.

Why does this mean the Winter Project isn’t needed?

44 extra bed spaces have been created which means there are more than 70 places available overall for anyone sleeping rough. These are available all year round, not just during the winter. The Homelessness Forums aim to end homelessness in Chelmsford. This winter, the council is confident the extra beds and other temporary accommodation should mean there’s no need for people to sleep in places like church halls.

“I am delighted that this winter, Chelmsford is offering more accommodation than ever before for people who might otherwise be sleeping rough.

“Previously, the Winter Project has been invaluable in protecting some of our most vulnerable residents, thanks to the churches and others who have participated. However, we are now able to provide far more appropriate and diverse accommodation and we plan that people should no longer need to bed down in church halls.

“If you are sleeping rough or facing homelessness, there is probably a complex and individual set of circumstances which caused that to happen to you. We aim to provide a route to a place that feels like a home, where you’re not alone and where you can get help to permanently change your life for the better. That’s how we’re increasingly preventing and addressing homelessness and ending rough sleeping. “If you are homeless or threatened with homelessness in Chelmsford, please know that there is a place for you to stay and there is support.”

Cllr Stephen Robinson, Leader of Chelmsford City Council

“Homelessness is rising in the wake of the pandemic and I feel that the full toll is yet to be felt. We are beginning to see job losses, relationship breakdowns, and higher possibility of people becoming homeless. The fact that so much help is available now is very timely and I hope that CHESS and other agencies can bring relief and support to many people in need.”

Rob Saggs, CEO of CHESS Homeless

How can people access the help available?

If you are worried about someone who is or appears to be homeless, please use Streetlink to tell us, with as much relevant detail as possible. When you send an alert through Streetlink, a trained outreach worker comes out to check on the person’s welfare and talk to them about the help available. There is also a Streetlink app, downloadable through the Apple or Android stores.

If you are, or might soon be, homeless yourself, please contact Chelmsford City Council as soon as possible. The earlier you get in touch, the more can be done; you may even be able to stay in your current home if that’s appropriate. The council’s housing team wants to help and will do all they can to assist you.

About CHESS Homeless

CHESS Homeless began in the early nineties, giving shelter, food and a safe place to sleep in church halls. At the time this was a fantastic opportunity to give to some of the most vulnerable people in the city. 

However, with the abuse of rough sleepers increasing and the risk of a virus significantly impacting the health of the homeless, CHESS are excited to be in a position of offering a temporary home to those that would otherwise be forced to live on the streets or in a very short-term provision, like the Winter Project. 

CHESS Homeless has more than doubled its housing stock and bedspaces since the pandemic began. We are proud of the service that we have on offer to the homeless, as well as collaborative working with partners like Chelmsford City Council, Sanctus, Housing Dilemma’s, Helping Hands Essex and many other statutory and voluntary groups.

The comment from one of our clients sums up what the offer of housing and support can mean:

“I have felt supported enough to let my guard down for the first time in a long time. I felt like my batteries were drained and you came along and plugged me in. I am recharging and feeling hopeful.”

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Julie Weight
Julie Weight

Julie writes stories and creates videos for Chelmsford City Council. Contact her at julie.weight@chelmsford.gov.uk or on 01245 606984.