Last Tuesday I made a visit to Southend YMCA, for the current Team v campaign, “Beyond a Tin of Food”. Southend YMCA is a charity that works in Southend, Essex, to help homeless young people. Apart from providing with housing, they also offer other type of support, such as food aid. Due to this, I believed it would be a good idea to work with them for this campaign, since they deal with food poverty.
Fortunately, I got to speak with an enthusiastic staff member in their offices, and I must admit it was a quite enlightening conversation. I walked out of that meeting knowing more than I thought I would. I asked about the organisation and their general services. Southend YMCA has 30 supported housing units. Their main focus is homeless teenagers between 16 and 18 years old, though they provide housing for homeless young people between 16 and 25. Service users are normally referred to the charity. Many of them are victims of neglect and abuse. Others have parents that can’t look after them, due to reasons such as unemployment. In most cases, these teenagers and young people are very vulnerable: many of them don’t have a penny, others have mental health problems and addictions, others are young offenders, and others have disabilities. Situations differ from person to person.
When they arrive to the organisation, these vulnerable people are provided with an emergency food aid parcel, which also includes toiletries. Here is a list of the donations they accept, so you can have an idea of what can the emergency parcel contain, more or less:
Food & Drink
Coffee, teabags, sugar, long life milk / powdered milk
1 litre long life fruit juices (orange and apple preferred)
Individually wrapped chocolate biscuits (e.g. Kit Kats, Penguins)
Tinned hot dogs, ham and corned beef
Tins of chilli, meatballs, meat curry, minced beef, chicken in white sauce, stewed steak
Traditional tinned vegetables
Tins of tuna pasta (spaghetti or shapes)
Tins of baked beans, spaghetti, ravioli, spaghetti Bolognese, beans with sausages
Tins of fruit
Tins of steamed sponge puddings
Tins of custard and rice pudding
SMASH instant mash
Jars of cooking sauces
Orange, lemon, summer fruit squash
Tins of soup
Washing up liquid
Single bedding and duvets
High street vouchers
Without doubt, the aspect I liked most about Southend YMCA’s work is their holistic approach to people in need: they give individual and complete support to their service users, not just housing, food and material goods. They go beyond food and beyond housing: they provide people with training, education and more opportunities to improve their situations. Every young person in their housing units has a key support worker assigned to them, with whom they have regular 1:1 sessions. During these meetings, the improvements of the young person are measured through the “Outcomes Star” system. This a method to assess and support the progress of service users towards self-reliance or other goals, like good mental health, quitting from an addiction, finding employment… Here is a picture and explanation of a “Outcomes Start”:
“An Outcomes Star reading is taken by the worker and service user at or near the beginning of their time with the project. Using the ladders or other scale descriptions, they identify together where on their ladder of change the service user is for each outcome area. Each step on the ladder is associated with a numerical score so at the end of the process the scores can be plotted onto the service user’s Star. The process is then repeated at regular intervals (every three, six or 12 months depending on the project) to track progress. The data can be used to track the progress of an individual service user, to measure the outcomes achieved by a whole project and to benchmark with a national average for similar projects and client groups.
In the mental health version of the Star (called the Recovery Star) shown above, the green line represents the service user’s initial scores, the blue line is their most recent score.”
During the visit, I also had time to ask about statistics and trends of poverty in the area. The figures I was told were quite shocking. Southend is in the top 10% of UK’s most deprived areas. The current need for affordable housing is very high, and this is not only an issue in Southend. Currently, England is suffering from a lack of available, adequate and reasonably priced houses. The lack of availability of houses has lead to hundreds of people sleeping on streets, where their wellbeing, health and safety are threatened. There is not enough social housing for everyone, and families often have to wait years in temporary accommodation, while their name is kept in list. A great number of these families include dependants such as children and teens below the age of 18. The number of families is increasing, while the number of houses available is decreasing.
The lack of adequate housing has lead to people living in bad, harmful and harsh conditions. Thousands of houses are overcrowded; in 2008/9, around 654,000 houses in England were deemed as overcrowded. Bad housing includes houses in need of several repairs (e.g. cracked doors, broken walls, floors with holes), and houses that lack of needs such as water, gas, heat, and electricity. Harsh conditions include excessive coldness or hotness, poor sanitary conditions, low food availability etc. Also, a lack of adequate housing is also conditioned by insecure and problematic neighbourhoods with constant crimes and health issues going on. All this affects the physical health, emotional wellbeing, mental health, social life, education, employment and future opportunities of individuals, mainly of children and teenagers which are very vulnerable to these situations.
The lack of reasonable priced houses has lead severe consequences. More than two million of people have serious difficulties to pay their rent and/or mortgage, and have debts with banks, state agencies, and landlords. In addition, the number of forced evictions in the last years have grown scarily, as more homeowners fail to pay their mortgage and debts contracts with banks and other organisations. On the other hand, families and individuals with low income decide to rent privately and they manage to pay their rent; however, after paying their rent, they struggle to afford good living conditions and vital needs such as food, security, good sanity conditions, education, transport, heat, and water. Therefore, despite having a roof, they still living on bad conditions. All these has a very negative effect on the physical health, emotional wellbeing, mental health, social life, education, employment and future opportunities of individuals, mainly of children and teenagers which are very vulnerable to these situations.
All this may sound dramatic and heart breaking, but it is the truth. And it is not improving: it is actually going worse. The Southend YMCA’s staff member I spoke to told me that they have experienced an increase in the number of people using their services in the last years. Sadly, the waiting lists are very high and they have to reject people due to lack of units. However, the council has created a set of housing strategies for the next years, in order to tackle this issue. And Southend YMCA has also decided to develop their services and open two more houses. Hopefully, these solutions will work out and more people can be helped.
At the end of my visit, I was very pleased with the information I found out. Southend YMCA’s staff members were very helpful and they seemed passionate about their jobs. The person I got to spoke to in particular started in the charity as a volunteer, and then he was offered a job. He also spoke about how involved he is in fundraising activities such as “Sleep Easy”, a national initiative through which people raise money by sleeping rough one night, in order to show empathy with homeless people. And what is more, he highlighted how important my role as a Team v Leader is, saying “volunteering is golden and it will help you a lot in the future”.
On conclusion, I left Southend YMCA’s offices very pleased. Now, I’m looking forward to collect a lot of food for them, in order to support their amazing work.
Sharing my journey through my first Team v campaign,
Emilie H. Featherington 🙂 ❤