HistoryA look at the past 30 years since opening
The Colchester Emergency Night Shelter opened its doors in 1984 in a Council 3 bedroom property providing 6 beds for homeless men. Manned purely by Volunteers it offered bed and breakfast for a maximum of 28 nights. It was available only from 7pm to 9am. A consequence of Volunteers only was that in the first four years the Shelter was often closed due to lack of cover. In 1988 funding was obtained to appoint a Co-ordinator to ensure that a proper Volunteer programme and rota was introduced.
Need of the Shelter quickly out stripped capacity and, with the help of Colchester Borough Council, the current premises became available providing 20 beds (both twin and single rooms) in 1991. In 1995, Lottery funding allowed us to buy the property outright. The policy of the Shelter changed at the same time making the Shelter available to both single men and women. It would also be an “open shelter” to all over the age of eighteen regardless of sex, race, gender or racial grounds.
Capacity and opening times at the Shelter have not changed. Our open house policy has not changed. The range and needs of the homeless has, and is, changing. We have taken on board difficult to house clients since 1995 but their problems (and therefore their needs) are becoming more complex. Drug and alcohol addiction and mental health problems are growing and proving more difficult to help. The housing stock is reducing due to benefit and welfare changes and public and private rental is very difficult to find within the budgets of our clients. The ability of our client group to maintain their tenancies is therefore becoming more difficult often because of poor money management and spending priorities are low on their skills agenda.
Our services have expanded to meet the more complex demands of our clients and we provide in depth assessments, welfare support (including benefits) and some initial basic training. We rely largely on our local contacts with other charities which specialise in the supply of retail property and the Council/ Housing associations to provide accommodation opportunities, including supported housing. However, as benefits to the unemployed have changed so has the available rental housing stock with providers concentrating on those clients who can attract the most public funds. Our problem has always been that our client does not usually meet the criterion.
We are always looking to keep up to date with welfare and statutory funding trends to ensure that we can continue to expand and improve our support/advisory services and develop the range of training and practical activities available within the Shelter and with our contact s and support organisations without. At the moments we are also:-
- Looking to expand our training and education facilities with a full time post which we see as an important key to the ability of our clients to live a more productive life;
- We are finally providing part-time out-reach support to increase our clients ability toi keep their accommodation, to continue to involve themselves in education and to support them in their search for gainful employment. This will need to become full time in due course;
- Needing to become directly involved in the development of a housing list, working directly with landlords rather than totally relying on other organisation to do it for us;
- Going to review our policy on providing only emergency accommodation at the Shelter because of the more difficult housing situation locally;
- Considering the 24 opening option.
All this is necessary because we need to keep providing the best, most relevant service to our clients. We are and will continue to be assessed by our funders on all aspects of our service delivery during and after the clients stay at the Shelter. Length of stay in the accommodation found has always been a critical outcome and that continues to be a problem for many of our clients who are with us now because many haven’t been able to keep their accommodation in the past. An Outreach worker is now in place to provide continued support once our clients have left the “safety” of the Shelter. We also still have access to our rental providers and supported housing providers but our virtually total reliance on them is no longer viable as a strategy. Changes in Housing Benefits have made our search for suitable accommodation for many of our clients particularly difficult hence our need to become more directly involved in this area.