Behind the scenes with East Sussex homeless charity: ‘People can’t afford to live anywhere so are becoming homeless’

A homeless charity has opened its doors to show the Herald what goes on behind the scenes as price rises in April push more people towards the brink financially.

A homeless charity has opened its doors to show the Herald what goes on behind the scenes as price rises in April push more people towards the brink financially.

Warming Up The Homeless (WUTH) works to change the face of homelessness by ensuring those in need have enough clothing, food, support, and essential information to survive. The charity is independent with no government funding and is exclusively funded by grants, income from its shops, and donations from the public.

WUTH started back in November 2015 when a group of friends became aware of the increasing homeless problem and decided to try and do their bit. Now there are multiple teams across East Sussex.

Warming Up The Homeless in Eastbourne SUS-220330-095045001

CEO Trudy Hampton came on board four years ago with a background in policing, welfare, psychology and mental health.

She said, “I became involved because my son has mental issues and developmental issues. Going through the process of getting him help was awful, just awful. You speak to others and it’s the same. It was so bad in the end I had to pay a lot of money to get him sorted through private means, and I know not everyone can do that. It got me thinking where people turn to for help. The services are all fragmented and not joined up, it’s hard to navigate.”

Since then WUTH has grown and grown and now supports hundreds of people a week through various outreach programmes.

Trudy said, “Homeless isn’t just rough sleepers anymore, it is people that are in temporary and emergency accommodation, domestic violence situations, people living in a car – if you don’t have a secure tenancy agreement you’re seen as homeless. People think it’s just rough sleepers but it’s more than that.”

Warming Up The Homeless distribution centre in Bexhill. SUS-220329-100111001

Over the years the charity has built up useful connections with local businesses and restaurants, as well as supermarkets, to help support people in need. The need is increasing too.

Luke Sanderson, digital operator at WUTH, said, “Lots of people are drifting into the homeless category due to rising prices at the moment. Usually these are our quieter months but it’s still really busy.”

The statistics back this up too as Trudy said WUTH saw a 34.2 per cent rise over the Christmas period but these figures have stayed the same in the months that followed, and it’s seeing another increase of 12 per cent too.

She said, “People can’t afford to live anywhere so are becoming homeless. We’re feeding a thousands men/women/children every week. We’re seeing over 50 people per night in Hastings, and 80-90 a night in Eastbourne. Our drop-in sessions see around 60 people per night too.”

Warming Up The Homeless in Eastbourne SUS-220330-095031001

As well as giving people the essentials, WUTH works to bring happiness to children from struggling families too.

Luke said, “We see lots of wonderful generosity which allows us to do amazing things like take kids to pantomime. It was so emotional and gave those kids some normality for one afternoon.”

Despite homelessness often being presented as a winter problem, Luke and Trudy both said it’s a year-round issue.

Luke said, “I’ve never thought about it as a winter issue. People notice it more then because that’s when homeless people tend to stay in the same place to look for those support services. Hot food is critical in winter – that is when the death rate is highest and when the homeless community it most vulnerable. There’s less of a risk in the summer months but the need is still there.”

Trudy said, “We are a 24-hour service and people use it. We get calls all time of day and night. If we can’t help in-house, we’ll prescribe them to the right place and stay involved until it’s sorted, which it isn’t always. Sometimes there’s a happy ending, but sometimes there isn’t. You need to be joyous when there’s a happy ending, but it’s a happy ending for now.”

Teams go out in Eastbourne and Hastings four nights a week to give homeless people hot meals and other important supplies they may need. Team leader Chris Reece started volunteering in September 2020 when he realised he wanted to make better use of his time.

He said, “I had all this time in lockdown and wanted to do something. I wanted to change some things about my life and wanted to be productive. Doing this means you’re out and about, giving something back to help a local charity on your doorstep. I love it. Please give it a try, if you don’t like it you don’t have to do it. You get that feel-good factor. We do this out of love.”

The team of six volunteers do an hour at Western Lawns giving out food/drink and toiletries, and then walk around the town.

Leila Swansborough started around the same time as Chris and said it was running regularly on the seafront that got her into it.  

She said, “I’d see WUTH on the seafront so thought I’d get involved. I wanted to give back and do something good. It’s a good social activity, I’ve made lots of friends, and we’re helping people that need it. Most people who are homeless are not homeless out of their own volition. I just want to help.”

Oli Piotrowski has been with WUTH for three years and joined to meet new people. He said, “The walk around town appealed to me so I looked into it and then joined the group. I really enjoy it. Come along – we’re always in need of volunteers. Especially in Eastbourne at the moment. We need help on Mondays and Tuesdays mainly.”

Mikolaj O’Brien, who joined the group a couple of months ago, added, “I noticed it was a growing problem, I kept seeing more and more homeless people. It got to the point where I felt I couldn’t ignore it anymore and wanted to do something to help, even something small.”

If you want to find out about volunteering with WUTH, go to https://wuth.org/.

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