Comet Feature: Offering a Haven – How charity is breaking the cycle of homelessness in Stevenage
- Credit: Archant
Not every town or city has a dedicated charity to help the homeless, but in this respect Stevenage is one of the fortunate ones.
The revamped Stevenage Haven opened in October 2015 and, as we approach the first anniversary of its official opening event in March last year, the Comet spoke with staff and volunteers at the centre in Ditchmore Lane to find out more about the services now on offer.
The first thing that strikes you when you walk into the Stevenage Haven is how welcoming it is. There is a modern reception area, manned by friendly staff, which leads through to a light and airy central hallway with big picture windows at either end.
Leading off the main corridor is the well-equipped kitchen, community rooms with pool and table tennis facilities, offices and computer rooms.
Here people who just days earlier might have been on the streets can enjoy three decent meals a day, receive help to address the reasons why they were homeless, look at accessing college/training courses, access day activities including job searches, and seek more suitable permanent accommodation.
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On other days they can relax and socialise with staff, volunteers and other residents who have a shared experience.
Go up three flights of stairs through the accommodation block – which has 40 individual rooms, all with their own bathroom – and there is a seating area, with large windows that look out over the rooftops.
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This epitomises the philosophy of the Haven – to help people look outwards and onwards, to make plans for the next stage of their lives so they can go on to better things.
It’s obvious from chatting to the residents here that they share the same goal. They are positive and seem genuinely committed to moving on with their lives.
Mother-of-three Nicole, pictured above, is rebuilding her life after suffering mental health problems.
She used to rent privately, but when she was forced to give up her job as a support worker she had to give up her home too – loss of income and relationship breakdown are two of the main reasons people turn to the Haven.
Now Nicole is at college studying engineering, and is working towards the day when she can once again afford her own home and be reunited with her children.
“I was worried about coming to the Haven because sometimes hostels have a stigma, but I couldn’t believe it when I came here,” she said.
“I was so chuffed to have my own room as I found it difficult to mix with people, and it was a much better room than I thought it would be.
“At the point I was at in my life I was stuck in a hole, but now I’ve got up and gone to college and I’ve made a lot of friends from different walks of life.
“There are still days when I don’t want to leave my room, but being here and having friendly staff and friends to talk to really helps.”
Nicole hopes to qualify as a car mechanic and then eventually find a home so she can get access to her children.
In an age when estimates show many of us are just a few pay cheques away from becoming homeless, it’s a comfort for people in Stevenage and North Herts to know that if they fall on hard times and find themselves on the streets, there is a support network that can help get them back on their feet.
The challenge, of course, is being able to deal with the ever-growing problem of homelessness with limited resources.
But Stevenage Haven’s ethos of ‘breaking the cycle of homelessness’ is aiming to help people to do exactly that.