Real Life Stories: How First Base Day Centre helped Joe off the streets

Many of the people we are seeing are new to rough sleeping, like Joe who was helped by First Base Day Centre.  This is his story:

“When Joe first came into our service, he had never before been in the position of rough sleeping.  He was 45 years of age, had worked fairly consistently and always had friends or partners he could rely on if work dried up and he found himself in between jobs.  The recession had meant that he had faced a longer period of not working, his relationship had succumbed to stress and he found himself sleeping on the beach.

“Joe had made a claim for Job Seekers Allowance, but had not received a payment after several weeks.  He had eaten nothing for two days and was embarrassed, he said that he had not washed or changed his clothes for a week.  We made sure that Joe had a hot meal, a change of clothes and was able to use the shower at First Base.

“Joe was assigned a caseworker who met with Joe every day for the following week and it became clear that he was feeling overwhelmed by his difficulties, ashamed and hopeless about his future.   He said that he had visited a railway bridge on several nights in the previous month and had considered throwing himself under a passing train.  Joe disclosed the difficulties that he experienced throughout his life and that these experiences were re-visiting him on a nightly basis and tormenting him.

“Joe’s caseworker referred him to the Mental Health Team, a multi-agency team providing mental healthservices for homeless people, contacted his GP and made Joe an emergency appointment.  The Doctor was sympathetic and offered medication and follow-up visits.

“It was obvious that Joe was in no position to be actively seeking work and he needed a new claim for a sickness related benefit.   Joe was very anxious and physically shaking while he spoke with the Department for Work and Pensions on the phone so his caseworker supported him with the call.  It was a further two weeks and many phone calls later that Joe received any benefit payment.

“Joe met with the Mental Health Team at First Base and they agreed to offer some on-going support, seeing Joe fortnightly, alongside regular contact with his GP and daily support from his caseworker.

“With the support of his caseworker, Joe arranged an appointment with a BHT housing adviser who suggested that he make a homeless application.  His application was rejected due to lack of medical information supporting his case.  As Joe did not have a local connection to Brighton and Hove it was not possible for him to be referred into one of the City’s hostels, so we began to explore the possibility of privately rented housing with support from another BHT project, Firm Foundations.

“Throughout this time, Joe was continuing to sleep on the beach and his mental and emotional state would fluctuate greatly on a daily basis.  Joe made very good use of services at First Base, including volunteering and on good days was able to plan the direction of casework himself.

“Over time, we collected letters from his GP and from mental health specialists involved in his care and re-submitted his homeless application.   With the additional evidence gathered Brighton and Hove City Council accepted Joe’s application for housing.

“Joe is now living in BHT supported accommodation for people experiencing mental health difficulties.  He has key work support from this project alongside specialist mental health support for Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  He is engaging with alcohol support services and still calls in periodically to let us know how things are for him.”

First Base operates in the centre of Brighton and is the main centre for the provision of support to assist people who are homeless or vulnerably housed in Brighton and Hove to move on from the streets or insecure accommodation and realise their aspirations.  First Base operates client-centred specialist services to support people who are sleeping rough in the city to get off the streets, start realising their aspirations through work, learning and leisure and find a place they can call home. Several services run from First Base including a Healthy Lifestyles Project (comprising the Catering Training Project and Fitness 4 All), PASH (Promotional and Awareness of Sexual Health), First Impressions (CV and Employment Service), Culture (Heritage and Cultural Activities), and Dine, our catering Social Enterprise company.  

Volunteers are thanked by the Mayor of Brighton and Hove for their work in BHT

Volunteer Week 201631 volunteers from BHT were thanked on Wednesday (1st June) by the Mayor of Brighton and Hove, Councillor Pete West, for their work at BHT.

The event was part of Volunteers Week which aims to promote volunteering activities throughout the community.

Cllr West said: “I am delighted to have BHT as one of my chosen mayor’s charities.  I have known Andy Winter, the Chief Executive of BHT, for a very long time and used to volunteer at First Base.

“I recognise straight away the high quality, skills and experience volunteers bring to the table, without their contribution BHT wouldn’t be able to make the positive changes to so many clients and tenants lives.

“Thank you for what you do.”

Cicelie Vobe who is the Admin Support Volunteer at the Mental Health and Wellbeing Project, said: “I am so grateful to have been welcomed into such a great team that has offered me such a range of opportunities.  I have been able to develop so many skills and my confidence has been boosted enormously through my role in the office and in the workshops”.

My colleague Daniel O’Connell, who is Head of HR and Learning Development at BHT, said: “Brighton Housing Trust recognises the high quality, skills and experience our volunteers bring and develop with us, but especially the difference they make in empowering our clients and tenants to make positive changes in their lives.

“We are so grateful to them for their work and to the Mayor for recognising the added value that they bring.”

BHT has 152 volunteers across its services supporting their mission to combat homelessness, create opportunities and promote change.  Many of our volunteers are former clients and want to give something back. The work that they do is invaluable.  I can but echo the thanks of the Mayor and of Daniel, and I wish Cicelie and the other volunteers all the best for their future.

The impact made by volunteers in BHT

39 volunteers from BHT, including 9 from the Whitehawk Inn that recently became part of BHT, were thanked by the Mayor of Brighton and Hove, Councillor Lynda Hyde, for their work for BHT, the Whitehawk Inn, and the City as a whole.

The event was part of Volunteers Week which aims to promote volunteering activities throughout the community.


BHT Volunteers with the Mayor of Brighton and Hove, Cllr Lynda Hyde (Click to Enlarge)

Councillor Hyde said: “It was a delight to welcome so many people to the Parlour who are giving so much of their time to helping others. What surprised me was that many of the volunteers who I met today are former clients of Brighton Housing Trust, all wanting to give something back.  The Whitehawk Inn does excellent work in the east of the City, and the volunteers make such a difference to this work.”

Sandra Elliott has been volunteering at the Whitehawk Inn for 15 years as an IT tutor.  She said: “What is so rewarding about volunteering is seeing young people without opportunities getting the chance to make a change for the better so that they can get to a better future. It is so rewarding to see people flourish, especially those with learning difficulties.  They go on to get qualifications which builds confidence and self-esteem.  I help older people to learn how to use the internet which opens up a whole new world for them.  It is so satisfying.”

Stephen Fairchild, another volunteer at the Whitehawk Inn, said: “Volunteering allows me a chance to give something back and to help people who are going through what I once went through.  The event in the Mayor’s Parlour brings different people from all parts of BHT together.  It is especially nice for those of us from the Whitehawk Inn who are new to BHT.  It feels good to be recognised and thanked by the Mayor.”

According to Community Works, 110,400 volunteer hours are given each week in Brighton and Hove.

People volunteer for many reasons. Some volunteer because they have spare time, others because they want to give something back, and others do so because it is part of a route into employment.

It doesn’t matter what the motivation is for our volunteers. What I know is that they make a huge difference to the work we do, providing role models for people who are new to our services, and allowing us to deliver services that we might otherwise not be able to offer.

BHT in Numbers

We have just finished an analysis of BHT in numbers. Here are a few key figures for the period from 1st April 2013 to 31st March 2014:

We worked with 9,748 unique clients
Counting those who returned to services or used more than one service, the total number of clients was 11,316.
52.8% were men, 46.8% women, and 0.4% transgender.

We had 15 clients under the age of 16 (at our education project in Hastings)
19% of our clients were aged between 16 to 25; 23% between 26 and 35; 24% between 36 and 45; 25% between 46 and 55; 7% between 56 and 65; and 3% 66 or over.

21% of our clients disclosed they have a physical health problem.

27% of our clients disclosed they have a mental health problem.

688 clients were sleeping rough when we first started working with them, 204 others were ‘sofa surfing’, and one ‘lived’ on buses in order to have shelter.

We prevented 6,989 people becoming homeless or helped them to end their homelessness.

We provided 168 PCs, laptops and tablets for clients as well as 35 WiFi hotspots for client use.
We trained 446 clients to become computer literate.

We received 127 formal complaints and were pleased to uphold or partially uphold 106 of them. 21 complaints were totally rejected.

82 volunteers helped to enhance services to clients or assisted with the running of services, and 50 others became involved in fundraising activities.

We had 22 interns.

We employed 267 members of staff at any one time (230.6 full time equivalents)
Members of staff took an average of 6.97 days sick leave.

Members of staff attended a total of 962 training courses, or 3.6 courses each.

BHT has one mission: “to combat homelessness, create opportunities, promote change”.

Real Life Stories: How the Move On Project helped Penny to build on her recovery from drug addiction and get work

BHT’s Move On Project provides accommodation and support to assist people in recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. All residents are required to be abstinent and to be willing to attend regular fellowship meetings (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, etc). Many residents are referred to us by the BHT Recovery Project, the St Thomas Fund and other treatment centres. We provide a valuable third stage of treatment for ongoing recovery. Penny completed a month long detox from heroin with substitute prescribing at BHT’s Detox Support Project and then moved on to BHT’s Recovery Project where she was engaged in treatment for 10 months. Penny successfully completed their programme and came into our Move On Project. This is her story:

When Penny came into move on she was very nervous about making the transition from the highly supported environment of the Recovery Project, to the lower support of Move On.

She first lived at our high support house, for 7 months before moving to one of the lower supported shared houses for the rest of her time with the project. Time in the high support house meant she was close to the office and could easily drop in and see staff if she was having an emotionally shaky day. During her time in Move On Penny worked to address these difficult emotional issues. Her life history had resulted in her finding it hard to develop trust, difficulties in managing her emotions and incredibly low self-esteem.

Penny found it very been challenging to take healthy risks and step out of her comfort zone. With the support of keyworks and peer support Penny was able to overcome these challenges and undertook voluntary work at the Oasis Project and completed several short training courses. Penny started volunteering at the Detox Support Project – which is something a lot of our clients enjoy doing as it gives them a chance to ‘give something back’, reminding them of the start of their journey and confirming the progress they’ve made.

Penny received practical support with a range of issues including support in accessing benefits and registering with a GP. She was in the first cohort of clients who completed the relapse prevention course. Penny looked at her follow on housing options in keywork -although she was hoping to get council accommodation Penny identified that this was an unrealistic option within the time frame of Move On. Penny was reluctant to enter private rented accommodation as she had fears about it being temporary and expensive. However, with in keyworks Penny was able to go through her money management and see that it was affordable for her. With support from BHT Start project Penny has been able to access private accommodation and is now living in her own, one bedroom flat that she is really happy with. As the time to move out came closer Penny did become nervous, however during her aftercare meetings after she has settled in her own accommodation she was feeling positive about the future.

Penny popped in recently and had a catch-up with her former keyworker. She continues to maintain her recovery and her accommodation and has recently started paid employment.

BHT Intern Programme: The views of an Intern

There was a mixed response to the recent item in the Brighton Argus regarding BHT’s Intern Programme. I responded on Twitter and on this blog, but yesterday I received the following from someone on the Programme:

“My internship…

“Before moving to Brighton & Hove, I had no idea of Community and Voluntary Sector (CVS) or even the idea of community. Having completed my degree in philosophy I had always worked in the private sector whilst being conscious of the fact I needed to be beneficial to our society. Having managed a business for four years working round the clock, I burnt myself out and made myself ill, all for the aim of making money.

“I moved to Brighton and stopped working due to personal issues. I wanted to take advantage of the situation to change my career path. I wanted to work in the CVS in order to add value to my life by improving the lives of others. I started out as a volunteer in my local community group. I quickly moved on to organising large events and running a local community magazine. I felt that this sector added value to my life and enabled me to help others. Due to medical reasons I have been unable to work professionally but I’m very eager to get over these issues and start to work in the CVS in a capacity that best suits my skills and values.

“Without any recognised qualifications and having been out of the professional work environment for a long time, I needed a platform to achieve my goal of getting back into work in this sector. Brighton Housing Trust’s Intern program is the perfect opportunity.

“Before starting my internship I took on some voluntary work, helping a small charity aimed at improving the area in Hove. I helped organise large events, creating a community magazine and running the community café. I learnt a large amount by volunteering and it gave my life a sense of purpose. The government’s new volunteering policy, expecting people to volunteer in order to receive their benefits or social housing, so long as it’s managed correctly, it’s a great idea. Volunteering certainly gave my life focus and opened my mind to new possibilities as well as revealing hidden skills I never knew I had.

“There have been articles written arguing that BHT has taken advantage of these new legislations regarding their new Intern program. As I mentioned above volunteering really does pay you back in kind but the intern program is a totally different kettle of fish. With the intern I may not be getting paid financially but the level of precision in BHT’s delivery will certainly lead to getting a paid job in the sector I wish to work in.

“The intern application was managed in a very professional manner with a process that emulates a real job application. I had to give references, fill application forms, as well as have several interviews and meetings both with the Intern co-ordinator and the team of the service I applied to do the intern with. Since I started I have been treated with the upmost respect as a valid team member.

“Right from the off, personal development plans have been implemented, guidelines set and frequent supervisions. The supervisions are a key part of the internship. They provide the opportunity to have an open and honest discussion with both myself and my mentor about how I’m progressing, work on my personal development plan and discuss other matters such as training opportunities to further increase my employability. This professionalism and structure is often missing in voluntary roles

“The team are very understanding with regards to personal issues an example being my arthritis. They help by going through my difficulties and creating solutions and coping strategies. Not only that but all of the staff members have very friendly and eager to help whenever I get stuck or don’t understand something fully.

“I certainly don’t feel that BHT are taking advantage of me or any of the other interns. It’s a reciprocal relationship and the more you put in the more you get out. I’m fully confident that by the time my six months intern is finished, I’ll have a fantastic CV and a great amount of relevant experience to maximise my employability, which is obviously exactly what both parties aim to achieve.”

Celebrating the amazing work of volunteers at BHT

Last year BHT benefited from the contribution of 103 volunteers. This is the most volunteers we have ever had, and excludes social work students and those who have joined our Intern Programme.

The benefit derived from our volunteers is enormous, both by our clients and by staff members.

Next week is Volunteers Week, and on Wednesday we will be recognising the work of some of our volunteers at an event being hosted by the Mayor of Brighton and Hove, Cllr Bill Randall?

Volunteering in BHT is usually restricted to current and former clients, as part of our commitment to increase the employability of clients. But this last year we have recruited 32 law students to supplement the work of our lawyers and advisers.

Our Addiction Services had 24 volunteers, 20 at the Detox Support Project and 4 at the Recovery Project. A new initiative at the Detox Support Project is the creation of ‘Recovery Buddies’, former clients who are paired with those new to recovery to provide encouragement, advice and a role model. Clients in the Project identify Recovery Buddies as providing exceptional benefit. The Recovery Buddies initiative has been co-ordinated by a former client and volunteer herself. She has recently been recruited into a paid role within the service.

Volunteering at the Detox Support Project is a win-win-win situation: clients benefit from additional support received, volunteers get huge satisfaction from giving something back and it prepares them for work, and the organisation is able to broaden its offer to clients.
I am really pleased that the Mayor will be recognising the contribution of our volunteers.
My only regret is that we are often not able to respond positively to offers of volunteering from the general public. We try to ensure that volunteers are properly training and supported, and we sadly don’t have the capacity to do more?