‘I’m proud of where I am now with my own business and home, but I can’t tell my story yet because if people knew I’d been here, I could lose it all.”
There’s a story to tell about a man who lost it all after a relationship break-up but turned his life around thanks to the support of the Salvation Army’s Lifehouse in Skegness.
However, in spite of a success rate of helping 85 per cent of clients, there’s a stigma surrounding the vulnerable people who go to Witham Lodge which residents and the Salvation Army are keen to shift.
According to social media, it’s a place just for addicts and alcoholics - but speak to the manager George Hockings and you’ll soon see there is a zero tolerance policy for drugs and anyone who refuses to accept the support on offer.
The truth is, anyone can find themselves homeless these days - the oldest resident at the moment is a 74-year-old man - and the number of people needing help is expected to soar when the Universal Credit comes into effect in June.
“Some people will not be able to handle money in a lump sum and will blow it all and have nothing for the rest of the month,” said Mr Hockings.
“Landlords will refuse people on benefits, in case they don’t get their rent and end up owed hundreds of pounds, and there the problem will begin.”
As the new Homelessness Reduction Act comes into play this month, there is now a legal duty on councils to give people meaningful support to try to resolve their homelessness, as well as introducing measures to prevent people becoming homeless in the first place.
The journey isn’t easy, as the former resident explained: “When I came here I was in a very dark place and was suffering pains in my head.
“The support workers gave me a bed and food and the help I needed to get back on my feet.
“I’ve always been a grafter but it hasn’t been easy. People who come here need to listen to what they are told, and take the support.”
Three young men who are taking that advice are Jamie, 22, who moved to Skegness from Nottingham; Ross, 21, from Louth, and 21-year-old Jordan from Alford.
They are turning their lives around with the help of the Hope scheme, which was pioneered at Witham Lodge after residents raised money for Derbyshire Children’s Home following a burglary, and found the experience has a positive impact on how they felt about themselves.
It now involves a number of volunteering activities such as gardening projects and furniture up-cycling, adding to the skills clients can add to their CVs which makes them more employable.
Jordan said: “If it hadn’t been for Witham Lodge and the Hope scheme I would have ended up in jail.
“The Hope scheme has given me new skills and stopped me stewing in my room feeling depressed.”
Karen Howden lives in the outskirts of Skegness and is limited to a wheelchair. She said: “Having help from the Hope project volunteers meant I could open my curtains in the
The house was becoming cluttered and I needed help. Volunteers helped mow and tidy up my garden and shed over the summer periods. They helped to clear up the garden after a hurricane, cleared stuff from the house for charity shops, decorated the kitchen, and started work on the hall.
“I was grateful for what they did, while they were here. I knew I could trust them, their thoughtfulness was second to none and they weren’t shy of work.”
A recent highlight for residents was over Easter, Jamie said: “We really enjoyed taking Easter eggs to an orphanage. The scheme helps up get involved with the community.”
Ross is already renewing his hopes to go to university and make use of skills he already has, including plumbing. He said: “Hope gives us hope after we lost everything. It helps us see that anything is possible if we work hard.”
The biggest hope now is when people read the facts about the work done at the Lifehouse, the stigma around Witham Lodge will end.
The former resident said: “In a year’s time I hope I can come back, say who I am, what I’ve achieved and thank the people who helped me get here publicly, I’d really like to be able to do that.”
FACTS ABOUT THE LIFEHOUSE IN SKEGNESS
Witham Lodge Lifehouse in Alexandra Road is run by the Salvation Army, working with partnership agencies such a P3 and East Lindsey District Council.
In the past year they have helped 140 homeless people, transforming the snooker room into a dormitory during the recent freezing weather.
There are 30 rooms, 26 of them single en suites, and clients have their own kitchens to prepare food. In addition there is a hostel at Rookery Nook in Lumley Avenue with 11 beds and nine at Stepping Stones in St Andrew’s Drive. Clients are referred to them by partnership agencies and everyone accepted has undergone a police check.
The Salvation Army holds the tender for this work until June next year.