Ready for winter

For many of the people supported by homeless charities in Kent, Christmas can be one of the loneliest and most challenging times of the year. While the work of these vital organisations is year-round, for the most vulnerable in society, with nowhere to call home and little or no contact with family or friends, the feelings of isolation and despair can become particularly overwhelming at Christmas.

Porchlight is a Kent-based charity that works to change people’s lives for the better; helping the most vulnerable and isolated people in the community to access housing and related support services. They work with individuals, organisations and government to prevent the breakdown of communities and reduce poverty.

This year they’re particularly trying to raise awareness of young people who may be finding themselves on the streets for the first time this Christmas. One such person is Sally, who was only 16 when she was made homeless: “My mother had been struggling with mental health problems for years but she became emotionally and physically abusive. She eventually kicked me out, right in the middle of my GCSE exams.”

“I was dreading winter. It isn’t just the cold and wet, I knew that as it got closer to Christmas I would miss home even more and it would be so lonely.”

Porchlight are now helping Sally by giving her a place to feel safe and someone to talk to. Someone to share Christmas dinner with: As she explains: “Christmas this year would be very different without Porchlight”.

Last year Porchlight housed 129 young people, aged 16-25, providing them not just with a safe and stable place to live, but with support from dedicated staff members to deal with the issues they were facing, whether coping with bereavement or the trauma caused by violence.

Rachel Kelly, Porchlight’s PR and Communications manager says that without the hard work and commitment of supporters, community fundraisers, committees, volunteers and staff, Porchlight would not be able to offer the services it does today, but there is still a lot of work to do: “We’ve just launched our 12 Days of Christmas challenge to help fundraise. The idea is that within a company, each team, or employee, takes on the challenge of raising funds on a different day over 12 days.

“Ideas could be offering a gift-wrap service to colleagues on the first day, organising lunchtime carol singing on the second, a Christmas cake bake-off on the third and so on. We’re hoping it will be a great way for people to have fun, as well as remembering Porchlight this Christmas.”

Another initiative being prepared to help support the homeless over Christmas is the CanterburyCommunity Shelter which will be operating from Monday 1st December 2014 through to Saturday 28th February 2015. Now in its fifth year, the shelter is co-ordinated by the Canterbury charity, Catching Lives, which runs a day centre offering support such as laundry services and foodall year round.

The winter shelter is open seven days a week, and each night opens in one of seven locations across the city, providing those who find themselves with nowhere to go, a safe place to stay and where possible, helps them to find more long-term accommodation and support with any other issues they may have. They are able to offer a bed space for up to 15 homeless individuals each night.

Charlie Oakes, Canterbury Community Shelter Co-Ordinator described the difference the shelter makes:

“Last year, we were able to help over 50% of our guests to find sustainable and appropriate  accommodation; and we hope to improve on this again this year.

“As well as our staff team, we simply could not run this service without the involvement of our local churches, their committed volunteers, and all volunteers from the wider community, who undertake a huge variety of tasks, including cooking evening meals, welcoming guests into the venues, helping them settle in, transporting bedding to and from each venue, and offering a listening ear to people who may not often experience this living on the streets.”

If you would like to get involved with this year’s Canterbury Community Shelter, please email ccs@catchinglives.org for details.

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