Published: 17:45, 26 November 2020
| Updated: 17:46, 26 November 2020
Christmas will be different this year for all of us thanks to coronavirus, but the certainty of a warm bed, plenty of food and supportive relationships is something we take for granted.
However, this is not the case for Maidstone’s homeless and many others in the grip of a financial crisis.
But Homeless Care, a Maidstone charity, is on hand to provide help and support to the vulnerable in our town.
For the nineteenth year, the Kent Messenger is backing its You Can Help campaign, which aims to secure vital donations of food, clothing and other useful items and runs throughout December.
Every year school students and residents replenish the charity’s cupboards, with nearly 15,000 items collected in last year’s drive.
Now with many facing extra strain because of the pandemic your assistance is needed more than ever.
The charity runs a day centre in Knightrider Street for the homeless, offering everything from showers and hot meals to housing and employment advice.
In February, before the virus hit, the centre helped 31 rough sleepers. Currently it is supporting 38 people, including those in Goodsell House, a home run by the charity that provides accommodation for the homeless.
During the first lockdown, the centre was closed but continued to give out food and run services for rough sleepers in who were provided with accommodation by Maidstone council.
When the doors reopened three people could be seen at a time but during the second lockdown this has been reduced to one per hour.
Homeless Care also runs Food for Thought foodbank, which has seen a steep rise in demand during the pandemic from around 50 people in February to 120 last month.
To shed a light on the important work of Homeless Care and why it's so vital, we spoke to Julian Dinu, who was sleeping rough and using the centre's services when Kent Online visited last week.
It had been a good while since Mr Dinu has had to visit the Knightrider street premises.
The 37-year-old was enjoying working at a Kent hotel, chatting to colleagues while on reception, sorting out laundry and putting the qualification he earned in hospitality to good use.
But, thanks to the second lockdown, the hotel, where he was also living, closed and he says he lost his accommodation.
He is now homeless and living in a tent in Maidstone, waiting to hear when he can return to his job.
He says he was afraid of sleeping rough but is now “used to it”.
“I am only afraid of the cold,” he said while sitting down, after coming to collect warm clothes and check his emails to monitor his Universal Credit application, which he has been unable to do since his phone was stolen.
This is not the first time Mr Dinu, who is Romanian and also speaks French and Spanish, has been made homeless.
In February he started working at a pheasant farm near Ashford and was living in a caravan, provided by the business.
But when coronavirus hit the UK, the farm closed and Julian lost his home.
“I didn’t know what to do, I was lost,” he says, over a plate of baked beans and sausages provided by the centre.
He approached Maidstone Borough Council’s outreach team, and was provided with temporary accommodation.
When speaking to Kent Online he had not yet contacted the council about accommodation, and was hoping the hotel would reopen on Wednesday, December 2, when the second lockdown ends.
However, it emerged today that Kent will be placed under the most severe restrictions, in tier 3, next week.
Hotels in tier 3 areas are not allowed to open.
Julian’s situation is not unique to him, day centre assistant manager Tracy Maybank says.
A few weeks ago one man visited who was was living and working in a pub. But when that had to close because of national restrictions he too lost his home.
Julian says he is waiting for his paycheck from the hotel to come through and in the meantime also visits foodbanks.
He won’t say where his tent is. “I have found a place where nobody knows where I am,” he says. “I hate when people see it, I’m trying not to show I’m homeless.”
He didn’t expect to be back here. “I had a job, I was happy,” he says.
To support You Can Help, drop off donations at Morrisons in Sutton Road and Larkfield and Sainsbury’s in Romney Place.
Items needed included Christmas crackers, cards, wrapping paper, sweets, selection boxes and advent calendars; toiletries, and the following foods: pickled condiments, tinned meat and fruit, puddings, cheese and biscuits,tinned fruit, jelly and custard, fruit and vegetables, gravy, potatoes, crisps, mince pies, coffee and fruit juice.
Schools taking part in the campaign are Cornwallis Academy, Maidstone Grammar School, Maidstone Grammar School for Girls and Oakwood Park Grammar School.