Helping St Albans' hidden homeless this Christmas

Trainee community support assistant Geoff Newman, companion rep Peter Harris

Trainee community support assistant Geoff Newman, companion rep Peter Harris

Archant

While most people spend the frosty festive season snuggled up with family and friends, some are left out in the cold.

At a time of peace and goodwill, many are guilty of prioritising pushing through the crowds of shoppers, gunning to get a deal.

But look beyond the frantic festive bargainers and you’ll find St Albans’ ‘hidden homeless’, often ignored while they sleep rough and go hungry.

Images of the homeless do not lend themselves to the scenic views of the St Albans district, but behind the beautiful heritage lies a big problem.

Geoff Newman, 29, spent time sleeping rough in the Maltings car park after he was left homeless.

Recently diagnosed as bi-polar, Geoff stole money from his workplace during a depressive period before making a failed suicide attempt.

He then turned himself in to the police and after being remanded in custody, he was released and left homeless.

A year later, and Geoff has turned his life around as a trainee ‘companion’ at Emmaus, a charity that provides housing and support for up to 34 homeless people in the area.

Geoff said: “When I came to Emmaus they gave me support, put me in contact with a doctor so I could get the right medication and I was finally diagnosed.

“Being here has really helped rebuild my confidence and it is immensely important that we are here to give security at a time when people are feeling very insecure.”

Emmaus is one of the charities in the area which help combat homelessness, alongside Centre 33 and Open Door.

Figures released in 2013 showed that homelessness is rising at an alarming rate, with housing applications to the council going from 80 in 2011 to 182 in 2013.

Geoff added: “We are always oversubscribed. St Albans has a large homeless problem, but they are the hidden homeless.

“Residents see past it; there’s so much stigma attached to being homeless, but it can happen to anyone.

“I often say to people that you’re only two pay packets away from being homeless yourself.”

While Emmaus provides accommodation and employment for a longer period of time, Open Door is there for those needing a bed and meal for the night.

Kerry Pollard, who helped set up the charity more than 20 years ago, said: “People develop such low self esteem and don’t feel they are worth anything.

“Here we save peoples’ lives, and that’s the truth of it, we save lives. I could tell you countless success stories, but there are still people who need our help.

“Donating to us is the best investment anyone could make, and I am proud of the people of St Albans, as many of them do have very generous spirits.” For those wanting to do their bit, Emmaus are running the ‘Rucksack Project’, asking for donations of a rucksack, a sleeping bag, a flask (to fill with hot soup), spoon, gloves, hat, fleece, underwear, socks and extra food.

Emmaus also welcomes donated furniture, which they reupholster and repair before selling it. For more information, visit: www.emmaus.org.uk/st_albans/.

Open Door is always looking for volunteers and donations, for more information visit: www.hpcha.org.uk/open-door/.

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