The new boss of a Chesterfield homelessness charity has urged people in the town to see ‘the people behind the problem’.
Despite only being in the job a few months, Sian Jones, the new head of Pathways, on Saltergate, is under no illusions about the size of her task.
Coming from Sheffield, she says she has been very impressed so far with the compassion shown by people in Chesterfield toward rough sleepers.
But she also warned that more help was needed in order to meet a problem which is increasing all the time.
“Chesterfield has got a bigger homelessness problem than a small town should have,” she says.
“We saw 300 people last year and, judging by the time I’ve been here, that is going to increase again this year.”
Everybody is different and we shouldn’t just lump people togetherSian Jones
The problems the town faces will not come as news to many residents. Areas of the town centre such as New Beetwell Street have become notorious for homelessness, drug taking and anti-social behaviour.
Sian says she understands that people in groups can be intimidating – but says that is not their intention.
“People congregate so they are not on their own,” she says.
“A lot of people we work with would be quite upset if they thought they were intimidating people.
“For me, it is just about trying to understand the lifestyle people are in.
“I imagine it is really difficult to stay positive when you are living on the streets.
“And I am not sure how easy it would be to stay motivated when there are so many barriers in the way.
“Everybody is different and we shouldn’t just lump people together.”
Sian says that while some of the people they work with may not be ‘street homeless’ in the strictest sense of the term, this doesn’t mean they don’t have other problems.
At the moment, one of these is the prevalence among the homeless community of the psychoactive drugs formerly known as legal highs.
“People who take these substances are often more difficult to treat as there are no substitutes that can replace them like methadone can with heroin,” explained Sian.
“All of this makes it very difficult to change unless you have some stability first.”
A big part of securing that stability is finding – and keeping – a place to live.
To help people do this, the service has just appointed a new member of staff, William Lee, to do two days’ outreach work a week.
“He will be going down to locations like Beetwell Street to say ‘hello’ and to let people know what kind of support we can offer,” said Sian.
“We don’t want to be too pushy – but we don’t want to miss people either.”
The rest of William’s week will be taken up with helping people maintain accommodation once they have found it.
“Going into a new place with just four walls and nobody else there – it can often be a very lonely place to be,” says Sian.
“They have no social network and might think things were easier on the streets.”
To help this, building society Nationwide has just agreed to help them set up an ‘upcycling’ project for second-hand furniture.
It is hoped this will not only give clients items of furniture they need, but also something constructive to do with their time.
There is also a partnership with the new Queen’s Park Sports Centre to enable people to have a shower in their facilities – and the service also relies on grants from funding organisations such as the Lloyds Foundation.
But as well as this public and corporate help, Sian says they are hugely indebted to the generosity shown to them by the people of Chesterfield.
This is epitomised by events such as the fundraiser being jointly organised with Derbyshire folk quartet, Spoil the Dance.
The band – who have nominated Pathways as their charity of the year – will play Hasland Village Hall on Friday, November 17, with all profits going to the charity.