Ark charity bears witness to the horrors of homelessness in town

JPCT 130212 The Ark - a charity which helps people out if addiction, poverty and homelessness. photo by Derek Martin
JPCT 130212 The Ark - a charity which helps people out if addiction, poverty and homelessness. photo by Derek Martin

SLEEPING in a frost-covered sleeping bag and having one hour’s notice to move house with a seven-month-old baby are the realities of being homeless in Horsham.

People at the sharp end of today’s recession have spoken to the County Times about their experiences and praised the work of The Ark, a Horsham charity which helps people turn their lives around from addiction, poverty and crime.

Burt [not his real name], who is homeless and has spent winter nights sleeping rough, said: “The Ark has been so good to me. If it weren’t for places like this, there would be nowhere.

“The authorities couldn’t care less about people of my age. Lisa [co-founder of The Ark] has done a fantastic job and she’s got time for everybody.

“Because it’s been below freezing, the council have been giving me somewhere to stay, but this morning the council told me I can’t stay tonight.

“They don’t realise what it’s like. I woke up the other night with frost on my sleeping bag. You can’t get warm.”

He said he has found friendship at The Ark despite his circumstances.

“The Ark is great. We can socialise in a non-hostile environment. Everybody is friendly, considering my drink and drugs.”

The Ark “family” meet up three days a week at Horsham’s United Reformed Church. They make meals together, chat and share their experiences with each other.

Volunteers help them improve their numeracy, literacy and computer skills as well as help fill in forms and write CVs.

Lisa Burrell, who helped set up the charity in June 2010, said: “The Ark is here to reach those that there’s nothing else for.

“What we find is that a lot of people have not interacted with the agencies they are required to and not wanted to be involved in authority, but when we walk alongside them and when they can have their appointments here, we find they can trust us and it works.

“We provide advice on benefits and housing. We do literacy and numeracy to bring up their skills.

“We have a qualified computer tutor who comes in, we have internet access.

“They all help. They plan the meals, go and do the shopping and cook it together. It’s a family.”

The Ark was on hand when an 18 year-old mum and her seven-month-old daughter were told they had one hour to leave their council accommodation thought to be due to a breakdown in communication.

The mum, who did not wish to be named, said: “The council said at first we had until the 10th and we appealed against it.

“On Friday morning they said we had one hour to move out. It took from 10am to 4pm to sort out it all out.

“We spent the whole day out in the cold and we’re still in a hotel now.”

Lisa said: “In both these cases Horsham District Council is complying with the regulations. It’s just [the individuals’] situations. There’s no suggestion the council didn’t comply.

“The problem is when people are found to be intentionally homeless and they fall off the system. Ark works around the system and helps people get to where they need to be.

“[The mum] was told it had been sorted, but we think this hadn’t been communicated to the B&B owner. That’s when she got fearful.

“Burt is out of work and waiting for rehab. In the cold weather the council housed him, but once that requirement goes, he’s not a priority.”

Jason Mack, who has been going to The Ark for four months, praised Lisa for her help.

He said: “I came in with some of my friends of mine and I really enjoy it. I split up with my partner and Lisa helped me to find another place. People are friendly, we help in the kitchen, with coffee teas and dinner. We do sandwiches on Tuesday and dinner on a Thursday.”

The Ark, which relies on donations of food and volunteers to run, is open Mondays 9am to 3pm, Tuesdays 2pm to 9pm and Thursdays 9am to 5pm. For more information or make a donation contact Lisa on 07825 284054 or go to wwww.thearkhorsham.org.uk