IMAGINE bedding down in a shop doorway in freezing temperatures with no food or drink. For most of us, it’s a world away.
But for some, it’s a sad reality of modern life.
In Southend town centre, for example, a number of people sleep rough in shop doorways, some asking for cash.
But who looks after these people?
Who stops their health deteriorating when they sleep as the rain beats down?
Southend charity, Harp, has always taken a lead in helping homeless people.
Now, it has been awarded cash from the Department of Health to pay for professionals to go out onto the streets and help homeless people before they fall ill.
Alina Kaminska, from Southend, and Sharon Chan, from Wickford, who both have a history working with people with mental health issues, are the charity’s new Street Outreach Workers.
Residents can help alert the team to someone who may need help through a website called www.streetlink.org.uk Team leader Michelle Noad explained: “The funding is to keep rough sleepers out of A&E, to help prevent them getting medical problems to keep hospital beds free, and save money in the long term.
“People can let us knowwhere rough sleepers are on the website and we can pick them up. If you can get people off the street quickly, it saves people getting mental health issues as well.
“They say that three weeks on the streets is enough to help cause mental health issues.
“When we pick them up, they can go to our day centre and have breakfast. We help them get access to a GP, dentist and run a substance misuse advice service.”
The team also regularly patrols areas where rough sleepers are expected to frequent.
When I joined the patrol one morning, within a few minutes the patrol found a man sleeping outside the former H&M, in Southend High Street.
The outreach workers tried to speak to him but he didn’t wake up, so they agreed to come back to see him half an hour or so later to make him aware that help was available.
Alina said: “Some rough sleepers have problems with drug and alcohol abuse.
“If they don’t want to engage with us that is fine, we just keep trying.
“If they’re not ready to address their problems there’s nothing we can do about it.”
A former rough sleeper bumped into the group shortly afterwards to thank them for the help the charity gave him in the past.
The man went on to volunteer for the charity himself, as many of its former clients do.
These include the team leader Michelle Noad herself, who credits the charity with turning her life around. Michelle was homeless at 16 and addicted to drugs, but the charity gradually helped her to get clean.
Within minutes a man and a woman who had spent the night in a church’s nightshelter were given advice by the workers about services available to them. And just after that a woman, spotting the workers’ high vis jackets with the Harp logo on, asks if she can volunteer with the charity.
But why would anyone want to work out in the cold and the rain, walking through damp alleys and speaking to strangers early every morning, some of whom refuse to be helped?
Sharon explained: “It’s rewarding. When there’s really bad weather and you have been in bed, you come out and find someone who has been out in the rain and the wind all night, it is difficult to see someone in that situation.
“But it is important that they can be found and that they get help.
“Later in the day we’ll be at the centre and it’s good to see people come in, because where else would they go?”
Harp is appealing for donations to help keep its services up and running.
To make a donation, visit www.harpsouthend.org.uk