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Gravesend homeless offered new supported accommodation in Wrotham Road, Gravesend


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A homeless man who spent months living in a garage after a relationship breakdown says he can now start to get his life back together after securing new supported accommodation.

At the start of the pandemic, Gravesham council assisted those sleeping rough to secure emergency shelter at short notice as part of the government's "Everyone In" scheme.

Cllr Jenny Wallace unveils new supported accommodation to help the homeless

More than 40 people – including two childless couples and two families with children – were placed into temporary accommodation and B&Bs across Gravesend. None have returned to the streets.

The scheme was lauded as a watershed moment in the fight against homelessness but housing charity Shelter has warned many homeless people still remain in unsuitable temporary shelters and some may soon find themselves back in the cold.

Keen not to "rest on its laurels", Gravesham council has now secured new settled accommodation for rough sleepers, bridging the gap to help people move onto permanent homes of their own in the future.

The facility, based in the former Alexandrias Residential Home in Wrotham Road, Gravesend, will provide safe beds for up to 10 people

Staff will be on site day and night to provide support to residents with complex needs and there will also be beds available for those in urgent need of somewhere to stay in an emergency.

New supported accommodation for rough sleepers, providing safe beds for up to 10 people, has been opened by Gravesham council in Wrotham Road, Gravesend. Photo: Gravesham council
New supported accommodation for rough sleepers, providing safe beds for up to 10 people, has been opened by Gravesham council in Wrotham Road, Gravesend. Photo: Gravesham council

Among the first residents will be rough sleepers Alan and Jaz who have spent 18 months flitting between different shelters.

Alan, 57, had lived in Gravesend all his life but suddenly found himself living on the streets after a relationship breakdown.

The former labourer said: "I started off living in a garage off Valley Drive and then I bounced around different places."

Living in harsh and often cold conditions was tough but Alan described the way he was treated differently and often ignored by people as one of the hardest aspects of life on the streets.

"I lost my self confidence," he added. "I didn't know what to do; I was just numb. You start to feel a bit insecure."

Now Alan says he is "smiling inside" after securing a room at the new council-supported accommodation and says he can look forward again to basic tasks such as showering and shaving in peace.

Cllr Jenny Wallace welcomes the first guests, Alan and Jaz, to the new supported accommodation in Wrotham Road, Gravesend. Photo: Gravesham council
Cllr Jenny Wallace welcomes the first guests, Alan and Jaz, to the new supported accommodation in Wrotham Road, Gravesend. Photo: Gravesham council

A keen fisherman, he also has his own rod and hopes to re-explore the past-time while receiving support from the council to get back on his feet.

"It means the world to me," he added. "I would like to get to a place where I can live by myself.

"This will be a place for me where I can get a plan together and sort my life out."

He will be joined by Jaz, originally from Birmingham, who like Alan has previously been "bounced" around different shared shelters, most recently finding himself based in a place in the Overcliffe.

The 33-year-old, who is a keen martial artist, started living on the streets after falling behind on his rent payments while living as a lodger.

Jaz said: "I was working while I was there [at Overcliffe] but I found it hard because I'm a bit claustrophobic.

Inside one of the new bedrooms for rough sleepers in Wrotham Road. Photo: Gravesham council
Inside one of the new bedrooms for rough sleepers in Wrotham Road. Photo: Gravesham council

"It was a tiny place and there were constantly people coming in and out."

The constant disruption affected his mental health and Jaz says he found it difficult to make plans for his future while around people wanting to lead him astray or take advantage of him.

He added: "I'm glad we have finally got somewhere we can feel stable and I don't have to keep moving out.

"Somewhere I can come and go and call home with people around me I'm comfortable with, like Alan."

The former care home was purchased by the council, which approved plans to turn it into a house of multiple occupation earlier this year.

Day-to-day support is being provided by the government’s Next Steps programme, which aims to ensure that those found accommodation during the pandemic do not return to the streets.

Cllr Jenny Wallace says the council must not rest on its laurels and must continue to tackle homelessness. Photo: Gravesham council
Cllr Jenny Wallace says the council must not rest on its laurels and must continue to tackle homelessness. Photo: Gravesham council

Opening the new centre on Monday, Cllr Jenny Wallace, Gravesham council’s cabinet member for housing services, said: “People can end up without somewhere to live for a myriad of reasons. It can happen to anyone.

“Here in Gravesham we are doing all we possibly can to find those who need our help a safe place to sleep and all the support they need to find a permanent home.

“Working with our invaluable partners, our homeless team worked miracles at the start of the pandemic to get those who were sleeping rough into safe accommodation almost overnight, but they used that simply as a starting point to ensure those we support have stayed off the streets.

“This new accommodation is a significant step up in the level of support we can offer people in their efforts to escape from homelessness.”

Despite these advances, the Pelham Ward councillor warned the council "must not rest on its laurels, nor consider the job as being done".

In the past year the council says it has made a number of changes to its team to ensure it is providing the best support it can to those who need it.

These include the appointment of a new rough sleeping partnership manager, a housing resettlement officer and a prison navigator who works to ensure a release from prison does not result in homelessness.

Working with partners at Serveco, it has introduced rough sleeper workers who work directly with those who need help.

Local rough sleepers also now have access to a dedicated mental health practitioner and a harm reduction officer helping prevent relapses into drug and alcohol addiction.

If you are concerned about someone you have seen, or appears to be, sleeping rough, you can report it by clicking here.

Support is also on offer through the Gravesham Sanctuary which offers emergency accommodation and the Daytime Hub run by Gravesend Methodist Church in Wilfred Street, offering clothing, showers, hot drinks or just someone to talk to.

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