A Lynn charity opened a halfway house this week, offering the homeless a chance to turn their lives around as part of a new project.
The Purfleet Trust is working with Freebridge Community Housing on a two-year pilot scheme to help homeless people learn how to take care of themselves and deal with their mental health, drug or alcohol issues while living in a shared house.
Paula Hall, chief executive for the charity, said: “These people are nuisances in their local community, getting arrested regularly and drinking in the streets. We can either ignore them, or try a fresh approach to help them change their lives.
“Sending them off with a meal and a sleeping bag is not a solution, it’s just putting a plaster on homelessness.
“We estimate that around 35 people in West Norfolk are homeless and need our help. We can provide a comprehensive service to help these individuals get off the street, gain qualifications and start a new life.”
Freebridge Community Housing has provided a house in South Lynn which will be a home for five individuals who have previously been sleeping rough.
Robert Clarke, director of housing at Freebridge, said: “Freebridge is delighted to be able to provide the house to give the chance to people in the area to have access to housing in an environment that will build up their skills and enable them to move on to independent living.
“This fits with what Freebridge Community Housing aspire to in creating opportunities for people within West Norfolk.”
The project has been funded by the borough and county councils, but various community groups have also contributed to the house, including £1,000 from West Norfolk Lodge and furniture from Charles and Caroline Barrett.
Two men, who were previously living on the streets or alternating between friends’ couches, were the first to move into the property on Wednesday. One of these was Damien, 37, a former drug addict who is grateful for the chance to change his life.
Mrs Hall said: “These people are living chaotic lives and in order for us to help them further, we need to look after them intensively.
“We have hired a health and wellbeing support officer and an intensive support worker to introduce these people to a stable lifestyle and prepare them for a tenancy of their own.”
To be given the opportunity to move in, each individual had to sit before a panel to discuss how they were prepared to commit to dealing with dependency issues or mental health problems while in the house.
Mrs Hall said: “This is a unique opportunity for people to get their lives back on track while helping to reduce crime and antisocial behaviour in the area, arrests by police and admissions to Accident and Emergency wards at Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.”
Intensive support worker, Georgie Futter, said: “Long-term we’re looking at lowering crime figures. The ones I look after are the ones who get arrested every day.
“If I can stop that by providing them with somewhere to go, we’ll be helping the community and this will be reflected in the number of arrests.”
Head of Lynn police, Supt Dave Marshall, said: “We are always supportive of any organisation that can provide stability to people and gives them the opportunity to turn their lives around.
“We have our own projects and operations to tackle street drinking and persistent offenders and work closely with organisations like the Purfleet Trust to tackle a lot of the underlying issues that lead to this type of behaviour.”
For more information about the charity, or to donate, go to www.purfleettrust.org.uk
Damien, 37, moved into the shared house with four others on Wednesday. He said: “I’ve waited too long for this. If it wasn’t for the Purfleet Trust I wouldn’t have a chance. I can’t thank them enough, I owe them a lot.
“I’ve always kept my nose clean, my upbringing was alright but I just fell in with the wrong crowd later on and drugs were what brought me down. I haven’t had any of the hard stuff for 10 years now.
“But two years ago my drink was spiked with cocaine, methadone and something stronger and it put me into a chemical induced coma. I passed out on my arm and cut the circulation off for so long that the muscles are completely gone.
“I was on life support for four days and they were writing my obituary when suddenly I sat up in bed and scared all the nurses. I fought a good fight and I have started back as I mean to go on.
“I need to do this for me, not for anyone else and I’ve done well so far. I just want something that is my own, I’m sick of living on people’s couches and moving around all the time.
“For a long time it just seemed there was no end in sight and no support, and then the Purfleet Trust came along and everything has happened so fast. It’s overwhelming. At the first mention of a house, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
“An opportunity like this doesn’t come around often for people like me and I’m just so grateful for the chance.
“Now I can focus on my eight-year-old son and building a relationship with him.”
Paula Hall, chief executive of the charity, said: “Damien is the ideal person for the house - he’s totally committed to making changes in his life and he is an inspiration to others who are battling addictions. Just by being there as an example, he can help others.”