A word from our Chief Executive - Spring 2018
One of the things that has moved me recently when talking to various church congregations about the work of our charity is meeting people who were involved at the start in the 90’s. I feel in awe of the pioneering spirit of the first Christians in Worthing who cared enough about the people they saw sleeping rough to do something about it; serving food on the seafront at first then acquiring a building to provide a rudimentary night shelter. We will be setting a budget next year for nearly 100 staff and over 300 volunteers. We are a much more capable and sophisticated organisation now transforming lives out of homelessness. However, it feels very important as a charity we never lose that early pioneering spirit and we are still prepared to be brave.
Homelessness nationally has been on the increase for the last 5 years and we are not immune from this in Worthing and the surrounding communities we work in. Every year around November, the Government oversees a national rough sleeper count. With the Council, we wanted to make sure we have the fullest picture possible and so used “estimate methodology” which adds in rough sleepers known to agencies but not found on the count. The numbers went from 24 to 35. When we looked at the cases, they remained nearly all local to Worthing and very few had remained homeless having left our hostels, because it didn't work out. We have worked so hard to make sure we adapt ourselves to better meet the needs of our clients rather than expect them to adapt to us and fail. It confirmed what we are seeing in our community hubs with clients waiting weeks or months for a space in our overfull services. 100% occupancy is a regularity. Rough sleeping is mostly hidden and many struggle with services. The fact that 35 have engaged is a positive sign they see services working for them. It is also gives a figure so we can plan properly the scale of provision needed in particular for emergency accommodation.
Roffey Homes presented us with a powerful opportunity when they offered us a 37 bed former nurses home in Lyndhurst Road (opposite the hospital) rent-free for 5 years, pending a development. It required us to be brave. We have made a commitment to the project before knowing how we will re-provision it at the end of the lease. We are gearing a project up with full 24/7 hostel staffing to open at the end of April. We are determined to halve the numbers that will be counted this November and thereafter make sure they go to single numbers and stay there. It is achievable if we can mobilise our whole community to make it work.
Over the last year, we have been looking at our name and identity and after wide ranging conversations both in and out of the charity. There is a strong sense we need a name and logo that more truly reflects who we are. One point we have looked at is our Christian identity. We are a fully inclusive organisation and embracing diversity matters deeply to us. Many homeless charities have Christian roots but fully “secularise” at this point of development. Consultation with rough sleepers found some wary to approach us because of the Churches in our name. On the other side there was much positive affirmation that faith and spirituality remain an important dimension to the charity. The churches have been central to us and will continue to be so. We were thrilled when Bishop Martin chose our charity for his Christmas message. I often say this is my dream job. A big part of my professional wellbeing is leading a charity where faith expression is a part of its character. This gives me confidence we will remain hopeful and brave, so the pioneering spirit continues undaunted.