As colder nights take hold across the Royal Borough, residents are turning up their boilers and snuggling beneath their beds to keep warm. Those without homes don't have that luxury and the colder nights can be deadly. Homelessness is on the rise, both in the Royal Borough and nationally--and it can happen to any one of us.
It is so easy to lose your home and everything you know--and everything you are. It just takes the loss of a job, the loss of a parent, or the breakdown of a relationship to start a spiral of events that can lead to life on the streets. The moment it happens, you become invisible--not a name, but a label like "drug addict", "alcoholic", or “thief". More often than not, you're none of these things but you're still seen as a burden and a problem.
I founded the Brett Foundation in 2014 to help homeless people rebuild their lives. We provide essentials like tents, sleeping bags, BBQs and clothing to help make their lives more bearable on the streets. We also help people settle into new accommodation when this is available by providing food, clothing and other goods and help people apply for essential funding.
Running a charity in the voluntary sector—especially in housing—is no easy task. Though we have limited resources, we do have the wish to improve the lives of homeless people. We wish to help each person find accommodation, work, self-respect, warmth and companionship. As we've learned, however, no single organisation can meet their needs alone.
Homelessness is not as single issue, but a complex problem with many dimensions that go beyond housing. We also have to consider how best to provide mental health services, drug addiction services, housing and benefits. If we're going to reduce homelessness, the Royal Borough and charities have to work together. Representatives should meet together—with homeless people where possible—to create a joint plan to support the journey from the streets to a new home and a new life. Without this, each organisation creates its own plan that duplicates—or impedes—the work of others.
Earlier this month, the Royal Borough published its long-awaited strategy to address homelessness in the area. This five-year plan makes the right promises toward an integrated approach, but I worry about the Council's ability to make these promises a reality.
Just last Thursday, the Royal Borough implemented the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) to provide shelter to homeless people when temperatures drop below zero for three consecutive days. Though the Council announced this on social media (which few homeless people read), they hadn't notified charities like ours that work directly with homeless people and could have helped them find the shelter they need.
Only by truly working in partnership can we avoid oversights like this and help more homeless people rebuild their lives.
Sue Brett is the founder of the Brett Foundation, a non-profit organisation based in Maidenhead committed to supporting homeless people and families in poverty
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