January is a particularly miserable time to be homeless – and that’s why this month I’m pleased to feature the incredibly important work of the Lancaster And District Homeless Action Service (LDHAS).
This charity provides a friendly, warm and safe environment for people whose lives are in crisis. They operate an open-door policy on Edward Street in Lancaster from Monday to Friday, 10am to 1.15pm.
Anyone who comes through their door has access to services that meet their immediate needs, such as hot food and showering facilities, as well as the opportunity to receive support from staff on a one-to-one basis to help with a range of issues from finding suitable accommodation to help filling in forms and liaising with other organisations.
The people that LDHAS support typically present with a combination of issues including debt worries, poor physical and/or mental health, family breakdown and disputes, sexual and or physical abuse in childhood or adolescence and drug or alcohol problems. Many of them have previous experience of homelessness in their family, have been in care, the armed forces or prison. Therefore their work often involves signposting clients to other relevant organisations which can provide specialist support, such as Mental Health, Employment and Drug and Alcohol Support Services.
They offer a triage approach, where all new clients are assessed and an initial Personal Plan is put in place that includes Housing, Health and Social Care, Financial and Work/Education issues with planned actions and outcomes.
This support is provided by the centre manager, caseworkers and volunteers. The average time an individual receives support for initially finding housing is 2-3 weeks and follow on support is an average of 4 months. During these times they often see people on a daily basis.
A team of staff and volunteers prepare fresh meals in their kitchen each day. Hot meals and drinks are consistently in great demand, with over 4000 lunches and 3700 breakfasts provided each year. This is an essential part of their service – it is often a stepping stone into helping in other ways as it enables staff to start building a relationship with people and develop trust, particularly with those who are more vulnerable.
LDHAS also provides access to laundry and shower facilities so that people can wash and shave and also launder their clothes. Critically they also provide a postal service where clients are able to use their address to register for a variety of public services, such as medical and dental provision, but also send and receive mail. They also have access to IT facilities so that they can use the internet and send emails.
Every year LDHAS provides a Christmas Shelter which runs for 5 days over the festive period, providing a bed, 3 meals a day plus snacks and a good social environment. Last year this involved 7 members of staff and 43 volunteers, who not only set up and ran the shelter but also cleared up afterwards. They were also involved in various fundraising events leading up to Christmas.
A key part of their service is to help people find suitable accommodation. They help people secure housing with private landlords, housing associations and local councils and often liaise on clients behalf with housing associations and the local authority housing department.
A significant part of their work is also supporting people once they are housed or helping those in existing accommodation who are experiencing problems. They help sort out a variety of housing issues with the long-term aim of helping clients maintain their tenancy. This can vary from helping them manage their finances and bills, assisting them finding suitable furniture and amenities to communicating with landlords and utility companies.
Clients usually have complex needs and therefore require a wide range of support to not only find housing but also to keep it. Therefore, they also focus on helping clients to develop their life skills, by increasing their confidence and general well-being and encouraging them to take up appropriate opportunities for training, volunteering and work experience.
Their overall aims include:
- Improved mental and physical health and wellbeing
- Reduced offending and other antisocial activities
- Reduced alcohol and drug dependency
- Improved skills and confidence to take up and maintain a tenancy
- Increased self-esteem and independence
- Moving in to secure accommodation in the community
- Greater ability to live independently
This film gives further insight into the vital work of the LDHAS.
Are you looking for a way to help people in need in your community? The charity’s services rely on people who selflessly give up their time to help others. They have a wide range of volunteer opportunities – some people work directly with service users and others work behind the scenes.
In 2017 volunteers contributed approximately 1400 hours to LDHAS; mostly in the kitchen providing breakfast and lunch for clients; but also sorting food and clothing donations; casework support; providing staffing for the Christmas Shelter; fundraising; decorating and maintain the Centre.
The charity values their volunteers as much for their life experiences as for their qualifications. All applicants will undergo induction training which will equip them with the necessary knowledge and skills to work effectively with LDHAS.
In March, the charity’s lottery funding expired resulting in a loss of approximately 90% of their income. As a result they’ve have had to reduce staff from 6 full time equivalent to 4 (currently 7 part-time) and they are relying heavily on reserves to sustain their services.
The condition of their porta cabin has deteriorated and they really need a new building from which to operate.
The ways in which LDHAS fundraises includes applying to charitable trusts for funding, organising a sponsored annual sleep out, a Christmas appeal to fund the annual Christmas shelter, giving presentations to various organisations and receiving donations and legacies from individuals.
Food is donated by a local supermarket, churches, schools and individuals, clothing is donated by individuals and schools and school projects on homelessness raise cash and provide clothing and food.
Can you help?
The work LDHAS does is vital and its so important that it finds new funding to keep going.
If you can help in any way please contact:
Lancaster and District Homeless Action Service Ltd
As we look forward to the new year ahead I hope you’ll join me in doing everything we can to make sure that Lancaster And District Homeless Action Service is still here in another 12 months time. The work they do transforms lives and without them some of the most vulnerable in our society would have no-one to turn to.
Thank you for taking the time to read about their work.