Redbridge Together: Charity helps three rough sleepers return to their home countries
PUBLISHED: 17:00 30 January 2019
After sleeping rough for nearly a decade, outreach worker Janusz Smura is now helping the borough’s eastern and central European homeless to rebuild their lives.
The 68-year-old’s life spiralled out of control almost three decades ago when his wife died unexpectedly from leukaemia months after giving birth to their daughter.
He has since rebuilt his life – now 20 years sober – and began working in Ilford with charity Barka UK in November last year.
In three months, the charity has already repatriated three of the borough’s rough sleepers.
The Recorder spoke with Janusz and his colleague Marta Maruszak to find out more about his inspiring story and how Barka UK’s is helping other rough sleepers to make the same journey.
“I had a breakdown and my life collapsed,” Janusz said, with Marta acting as an interpreter.
“At my lowest point, I drank alcohol every day for three years straight.”
Janusz lost his home and his job and estimates he slept rough for seven years, on and off.
Over that time he travelled across southern Europe, making his bed in the hidden corners of hospitals and small parks in various cities.
He spoke of how his addiction was such that he did not simply drink booze but also other products which contained alcohol.
The turning point for Janusz came after he returned to the Polish city of Poznan. A bitterly cold winter forced him to seek refuge at a winter night shelter.
“There was one lady, the manager of the centre, and she really motivated me,” he said.
“It was all men in the shelter. She was so dedicated that everyone called her ‘mummy’.”
With her encouragement, Janusz began to tackle his demons by enrolling in therapy and Alcoholics Anonymous.
Advised to keep busy, he started acting in the Jack Nicholson Theatre for homeless people, as well as selling tickets to performances.
He eventually re-established contact with his daughter, who had not spoken to him for 10 years.
“I am now a grandfather and I am really pleased my grandchildren did not see me during that time,” he said.
Janusz became an outreach worker with a Barka-affiliated charity in 2002.
Founded in 1989, the charity has a organic farm in the Polish village of Chudobczyce, where its clients can undergo rehabilitation.
In the UK, the charity’s aim is to support central and eastern European migrants facing severe social and economic difficulties.
Janusz came to the UK in 2007 to work at its first London project, which was in Hammersmith.
With the support of the government-backed Rough Sleepers Initiative, the charity now has funding to work in Redbridge – based in the offices of the Welcome Centre, in St Mary’s Road, Ilford until March 2020.
Within the Ilford team, Janusz works as a leader – venturing out to speak to rough sleepers in known hotspots.
Marta, who works as an assistant, helps connect rough sleepers with the various authorities and services, as well being available for women rough sleepers to speak to about sensitive issues.
“Janusz has experience of homelessness and that experience helps him build trust with others,” she said.
“The main aim is we’re working with the homeless to reconnect them with their families in their countries of origin.
“Many of them have issues of addiction to drink or narcotics or gambling.
“We try and motivate them to go back to get treatment for these.”
She said the charity helps to find a place to stay in their countries of origin.
The pair estimate that they have come into contact with around 50 European rough sleepers in Redbridge.
One of the three rough sleepers repatriated in the last three months is in the process of becoming another leader, like Janusz.
Asked what challenges they face, Janusz spoke of inherent difficulty in setting appointments for clients struggling with addiction and mental health.
Find out more about Barka at barkauk.org/
Redbridge Together, of which the Recorder is a media partner, aims to raise £500,000 for Project Malachi and The Welcome Centre.
Project Malachi will see a temporary hostel by created from recycled shipping containers in Chadwick Road, Ilford.
Your donations will help Project Malachi help more of the borough’s most vulnerable rough sleepers for as long as it is needed.
The Welcome Centre, in St Mary’s Road, helps with providing hot meals, showers, clothing and laundry but also advice and support, training and employment and a nurse-led clinic supporting health and mental health.
Businesses can support by donating money, raising funds, displaying Redbridge Together promotional material or offering work placements.
The campaign is an association between Ilford Salvation Army, The Welcome Centre, Ilford BID, the Ilford Recorder and Redbridge Council.
To get involved email firstname.lastname@example.org
Donate £3 by texting LIFE to 70145 or at Crowdfunder.co.uk/RedbridgeTogether