Ilford homeless centre is a ‘place where people can change’
- Credit: Archant
As I waited in reception, I couldn’t help be surprised by the Welcome Centre.
It is clear a real effort has gone into making the building, in Saint Mary’s Road, Ilford, feel clean, modern and bright – more like a new library or college.
“The whole idea is it’s light and airy – it’s a place where people can change, and will want to change,” said Sonia Lynch, manager of the centre.
The Healthy Living Projects charity was established in 2001 out of the Ilford Baptist Church, Ilford High Road, initially to meet the needs of the growing immigrant population and refugees from Kosovo and Afghanistan.
“Very rapidly, the project expanded to help homeless people,” said Phil Herbert, the charity director.
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“It’s a continued effort to try and hold back a tide. Without the work we are doing, that tide will just come in.”
In recent years, the charity received money from the government’s Homelessness Transition Fund to help rough sleepers from other countries, particularly Poland, Lithuania and Romania, either get on their feet here or go home with an established support network.
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Last year the programme helped 29 return, but funding was cut in December.
“It has had an impact,” said Phil. “All that good work has been done but we have no more money.
“I was at a homelessness conference and there was a resounding refrain from everybody – ‘where’s the
money going to come from’?”
He said the big solution to homelessness was simply to build more houses.
“The problem is more acute in Redbridge because there is less housing stock,” said Phil.
Sonia said one issue was the unknown number of “hidden homeless” – anybody who doesn’t have their own home, even if they aren’t out on the streets.
“There are people who can’t be housed because they don’t have any recourse to public funds, like illegal immigrants,” she said.
As well as the day centre, the charity runs projects teaching English, particularly to women.
“It enables them to be full members of society,” said Phil. “Our beginners’ class sometimes actually has to teach people how to hold a pencil, because they’ve never even written their own mother tongue.”