Doorway, the Charity changing Wiltshire’s attitude to Homelessness, One Step at a Time.
An Interview with Director Jo Kitching
The biggest misconception about homelessness is ‘it won’t happen to me.’ These are the words of Jo Kitching, Director of Doorway Wiltshire, a charity aimed at supporting the homeless and sofa-surfing. The organisation not only offers their guests the basic necessities of laundry and shower facilities, cooked food and a warm environment but teaches skills designed to build self-esteem and confidence.
The activities offered by the charity, including a weekly women’s group, a football group, art workshops and creative-writing sessions, have the power ‘to make a huge difference to someone’s life’ according to the Director. Loneliness is something from which many of the guests suffer, and the charity provides invaluable support through its provision of a ‘safe space’ which allows visitors to ‘communicate with both each other and staff about their home life, relationships and mental health.’ Doorway provides a ‘fixed point’ for many of the guests who live in relative isolation, allowing them to cultivate new friendships and skills. ‘The little achievements are important’ asserts Ms Kitching; offering food, showers, and warmth to guests is satisfying in itself but particularly so when the charity receives letters and emails of thanks from those they have assisted.
The charity also provides more quantifiable assistance to their visitors, referring many to mental health facilities and medical professionals. Doorway also works to support their guests in acquiring and sustaining a tenancy, advocating on their behalf to the council and helping them through the benefits process. This was the case for a twenty-something government employee, whose severe depression ultimately prevented them from reaching their place of work on time or communicating effectively with their landlord. They lost their job, stopped paying rent, and were eventually forced to sleep in the wooded area near their former flat for close to a month. Doorway was able to provide support and guidance which enabled them to get a place in the local hostel (Unity House), help organise their universal credit and get them back in their own flat and looking for work again. In Ms Kitching’s words the charity ‘made a real difference to his quality of life.’
The work of charities such as Doorway is particularly important in rural areas, where it is possible for homeless individuals to become completely isolated and incapable of reaching out for help. As an organisation, Doorway does not request or receive statutory funding, so has the ability to implement ‘tried and tested methods’ even if they are not always the same as the government’s. Moreover, the charity’s independence allows it to challenge the council on gaps in the system and unsupported individuals, ‘making a stand’ on behalf of other local providers. However, to remain autonomous and continue delivering vital aid to the local community, Doorway requires support from the local community and is fortunate to receive it from schools, churches, businesses and other community groups.
One of the ways the organisation raises awareness, support and funds for their cause is through their biennial Sleepout, which recently took place this year on 25th January at St Andrew’s Church Chippenham. Ms Kitching argues that the event ‘shows you in a tiny way what it is like to have to sleep outside’ whilst serving as an excellent opportunity to ‘engage with the community’. Fundraisers were treated to a performance from Chippenham’s own Lingmara Choir, whilst Antiques Roadshow veteran Marc Allum usually reads a spooky bedtime story at 10pm. The Sleepout aims not only to raise funds, but to change attitudes towards homelessness and the individuals it effects, explaining that there is ‘always a reason.’
The students at St Mary’s, Calne decided to run their own Sleep Out in the same vein yesterday (25th February) and staff and pupils alike hope that they will be able to raise a considerable amount in support of a life-changing cause!
Jolie (Year 13)
Pictured above: some of the girls involved in St Mary's Calne's Sponsored Sleep Out, which saw 31 girls, 5 Staff and 2 dogs – Becky and Bumble - brave the elements!