Emmanuel House and Nottingham's Homeless Community

4 April 16 words: Lucy Manning

"People choose, for a number of reasons, to give or not to give to people who beg. From our experience, it is clear that some people who beg use the money to buy food"

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photo: Natalie Owen

Since Emmanuel House was founded in 1976 by Father Roger Killeen, it has been primarily supported by donations – be that from businesses, individuals, or school and faith groups. “The work we do doesn’t draw on the taxpayer,” explains Denis. They also make money through their newly refurbished on-site charity shop, and some of their mental health and support work is made possible through funding from the Big Lottery, among other charitable trusts.

So, what exactly goes on inside those walls at the bottom of Hockley? “We’re a day support centre for people who are homeless and vulnerably housed,” says Denis, assuring me that no-one who needs assistance will be turned away, with the charity acting as the immediate port of call for those who find themselves in need. Service users are offered clothing, access to a telephone and the internet, showers, a laundry, and information regarding benefits and tenancy agreements.

Each day, approximately eighty adults are fed hot meals for around £1.50 a pop, or free of charge to those with no access to funds. Training, assistance with benefit applications and an onsite nurse are present. “We also provide advice and information services to enable people to take a step forward to independence. They can use Emmanuel House as a care of address, if they need to.

“Technically, people are homeless under a particular legal definition. At Emmanuel House, people are homeless if they’ve got nowhere to live, or don’t have a satisfactory answer to accommodation needs.” That includes sleeping rough, sofa-surfing, or needing extra support to remain in any previously arranged accommodation. “People can come in and speak to any of our support workers about any issues they may have, whether that’s about their benefits, tenancy agreement, or their neighbours. Similarly, if they’ve no recourse to funds, then we will help them.”

In addition, health and well-being sessions are held at the centre, with nurse-led workshops surrounding the topics of substance abuse and misuse, anxiety and depression being some of the most valuable, life-progressing services offered by the charity. “Quite often, homeless people have complex emotional needs, and are taking drugs or drinking excessively to deal with life situations that you and I couldn’t even begin to imagine,” Denis explains. Striving to break the cycle of abuse, the centre maintains a strong, working relationship with other Nottingham organisations, including Last Orders and Framework.

The winter months are the toughest time to find yourself without a roof over your head. Run by around 100 volunteers and a few paid staff, Emmanuel House’s winter shelter provides a warm, safe bed for approximately twenty people a night over the course of five months. Denis says that those who use the shelter are also put in touch with support workers, and placed onto a rehousing programme. “Three years ago, we resettled 164 out of 166 people who used the shelter. Last year, we’d resettled 120 out of 148.” Much more than just a quick fix.

Over the past year, the estimated number of homeless people has risen by around 30% across the country. In Nottingham, the figure is 50%. Statistically, in a two-person household, if both tenants lose their job, they’re only three months away from being made homeless. “Homelessness is not just the result of one wrong decision. It’s usually a complex interweaving of difficult circumstances. Lack of accommodation, high rent, being unable to recover economically, relationship breakdowns, barriers to access mental health services. They will all be contributing factors.”

This year, the government has imposed further austerity measures. Alongside other cities, Nottingham has been hit right where it hurts, with our Revenue Support Grant being slashed annually by the government until it’s phased out completely. This means the money the council currently uses for services for vulnerable adults and young people in our city will have to be sourced from elsewhere, inevitably affecting the way things are run.

“I read the other day that in four years’ time, local authorities won’t be funding any voluntary sector organisations at all because of the pressure on their budgets,” Denis reveals. And, despite Emmanuel House running entirely independently from government or council funding, this development will see the charity facing new struggles. “The challenge will be that more organisations will be going for the same pots of money. No doubt, in my view, the need for organisations like ourselves are going to become evermore important as the pressure on other services becomes greater.”

He assured me that while the cuts themselves needn’t be the cause of homelessness or destitution, the effects on services available, in combination with a person's current situation, could in turn contribute to dire circumstances for certain individuals. “If you need a mental health service because you’re depressed, or you’ve suffered some kind of trauma, and you can't access early intervention, it becomes more difficult to cope with everyday life. Paying bills, managing money, and getting on with neighbours. On that basis, someone will find themselves homeless.”

We’re all aware to varying degrees that these are hard times we’re living in. According to the Trussell Trust, there are over a million people using their foodbanks in the UK, with 147,481 three-day emergency food packs distributed in the Midlands alone in 2014/15. But with an increasing number of us living close to the breadline, it seems we’re becoming far more understanding of just how easy it is to find ourselves in need of help from an external source. “We’ve seen our donations of food and clothing increase in the past year,” says Denis. Good on yer, Notts.

Denis attributes this to a renewed awareness surrounding the causes of homelessness and destitution. “People don’t generally see homelessness as an individual, personal responsibility in the sense that somebody has decided to be homeless. People understand homelessness now as a consequence of how we structure our society or the pressures that are on people and our services.”

Despite this, Nottinghamshire Police and Nottingham City Council have launched a media campaign demonising those who beg, sparking national criticism and debate. While the council have stated the posters are to encourage people to donate to charities rather than giving directly to those on the street, I wanted to know what Denis thought about the ads. “People choose, for a number of reasons, to give or not to give to people who beg. From our experience, it is clear that some people who beg use the money to buy food. While the council is committed to providing services for homeless people, it is disappointing that the messages in the posters are stereotyping vulnerable people. Everyone has the right to be considered as an individual.”

The work Emmanuel House does is second to none, but it would be nowt without the support of you kind folk. They’re always looking for volunteers to assist in the kitchen and shop, and donations of food and money are never turned away. More information can be found on their website. Furthermore, if you or anyone you come across needs help, it can always be found at the bottom of Goose Gate.

Emmanuel House is open access Monday - Friday, 9.30am - 1.30pm.
On Wednesdays, it’s 9.30am - 10.30am, then 6.30pm - 9pm. All you have to do is turn up.

Emmanuel House website

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