Mark Tomlinson is the Projects Director at Sutton Community Works. Once an informal gathering of churches in Sutton and Cheam, Surrey, it has since grown into a charity which operates a number of projects which puts faith into action to respond to local and borough wide needs.
This year they ran their first night shelter for rough sleepers. Here Mark explains how the relationship with Housing Justice helped achieve this.
"For the last eight years Sutton Community Works have been awake to the issues and challenges faced by rough sleepers in our outer London borough, and we are part of the borough’s monthly multi-agency rough sleeping forum.
We have served this community through our foodbank and practical help on the streets as street pastors. This includes giving food, sleeping bags and most importantly signposting to relevant partners eg, the council housing team.
Over the last three years there has been an increase in rough sleeping in Sutton. In parallel Sutton is also in the top 50 areas nationally for those living in temporary accommodation. This raises the issue of hidden homelessness.
Mark Brennan from Housing Justice first came to one of our leaders gatherings in 2017 to help us explore the obvious and hidden areas of homelessness.
Following another meeting in July 2018 and yet another in November 2018 church leaders agreed we needed to do more. Within less than two months we were able to set up a pilot winter shelter which ran for 31 nights.
It was hard work, but both Mark and Stephen Convill from Housing Justice were invaluable. We were supported with funding advice, policy templates, general advice, and they ran four training sessions for those volunteers getting involved. On top they offered endless telephone support during the pilot, regular communications via the network and a finally a debriefing meeting.
During the pilot we had 16 referrals and were able to accept nine guests. Amazingly seven of these are now in temporary accommodation. The pilot opened our eyes to the reality of those termed the hidden homeless. These are those occasionally rough sleeping, regular sofa surfers, sleeping in cars, not welcome at home - in general those rough sleeping in various guises or at risk of it!
We could not have achieved all that we did without Housing Justice, particularly Mark and support via the wider network.
Housing Justice support gave credibility to our pilot, to our already established links locally and confidence to volunteers to get involved. We trained 104!
I’m looking forward to extending our provision in the coming winter. Our next steps a meeting with more church leaders and again Mark and Housing Justice are supporting this process."