The aim is to combat the isolation that is often experienced by people having to sleep rough.
Over the past year, Turning Tides’ befriending volunteers have been critical in supporting the growing number of men and women who have become homeless during the pandemic.
Danielle Huet, volunteer co-ordinator, said: “During the pandemic, we have been providing a befriending service to combat the feelings of loneliness that our clients were increasingly experiencing, especially during lockdown.
“The benefits have been so significant during such a challenging time that we are launching a new befriending drive – to secure more befrienders countywide as part of our Routes to Roots programme.
“The Routes to Roots initiative helps people recover from the experience of homelessness and feel part of their local community. It has a really comprehensive matching process, whereby we pair a volunteer with a client who has similar interests so they can establish a supportive non-judgemental connection.
“The relationship is a very powerful one, so whilst being informal and voluntary, it looks to build strength and resilience in very real and practical ways.
“It could involve attending a community group together or meeting up for a coffee in the park. Having a companion who listens, is non-judgemental and kind is very restorative.
“During the befriending relationship, the client can gain confidence and self-worth, which in turn bolsters their resilience and empowerment – which is critical in helping a client navigate their journey out of homelessness.”
David is one client to benefit from the service. He has been attending befriending sessions throughout the pandemic and currently resides in supported accommodation with Turning Tides.
He said: “Before the befriending scheme, I was totally alone, without the social skills that seem second nature to most people. I wouldn’t meet, or have conversation with, anyone for weeks on end.
“The scheme has given purpose to my life. It may seem a small thing to many but for me, it is vital. Once every week, I meet and talk with someone that actually wants to talk to me.”
Another client, Andy, described the service as a ‘blessing’.
He added: “Befriending gives me a feeling of self-worth, support, belonging. Knowing someone cares is an amazing feeling. I have more confidence and hope now, as I tackle my social anxiety.”
Befriending volunteers are sought across the county but particularly in the Horsham area.
Danielle said: “We are hoping to recruit a further 50 volunteers who would then be matched with clients within the local area. Volunteers will have access to comprehensive training and check in sessions to ensure they are confident in their role.
“Hopefully, as restrictions ease, they will also be able to accompany clients to appointments, helping to motivate them to join community groups or fulfil goals and develop skills which will ultimately help to prepare them for the future when they move on to independent living.”