Recently, Janet and I visited Herring House, an inspirational homelessness centre in Great Yarmouth. We were visiting to donate four small TVs and a communal radio to the High Support Unit attached to the main hostel.
Herring House is a charity set up by CAB volunteers in 1991 to help people in the Great Yarmouth area who are dealing with homelessness. We were greeted on arrival by the beautiful mosaic of a herring created during an art project some 15 years before, and still serving as a sign of support and welcome to the area’s community.
The hostel has 27 people in residence, all with different health and often substance abuse needs. Centre worker Sue told us that, although drug and alcohol use are not permitted within the hostel, people wanting to detox completely found it difficult to do while living in an environment with people who were not abstinent. However, they didn’t want to lose connections which were often their only form of supportive social network.
The solution is a small High Support Unit attached to the main Herring House hostel. This unit is a ‘bolthole’ where residents can retain their supportive friendships while also living in accommodation with a strict abstinence policy for residents. They spend up to six months in the High Support Unit as the first step in their rehabilitation from addiction. Support workers like Sue help them to structure their days, gain confidence, and deal with any underlying mental health issues, before transference to a halfway house and eventually, their own flats. ‘We tell people that if they work hard, they can be in their own flats in two or three years,’ said Sue.
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Even after leaving, they come back to groups made up of former residents, forming a whole new social network. And some High Support Unit residents share their positive experiences with hostel residents who are still using, creating an atmosphere of hope throughout Herring House.
We’re proud that our TVs and radios are going to support the brave people going through rehabilitation at Herring House.
Sue said, ‘It’s a self-imposed isolation in the High Support Unit. They need to isolate themselves for certain pockets of time.
‘So having a television in there is fantastic because they’re not just thinking about their drink or thinking about their cravings or how difficult life is. You can lose yourself in a television programme for half an hour, and it might just help dampen down the cravings.’
In coastal towns like Great Yarmouth there is a lot of hidden rough sleeping – partly because people come to the area due to nostalgia for past holidays, and partly because B&B accommodation becomes insecure in summer when proprietors can make more money from renting to tourists. Herring House also deals with a lot of homelessness spread over the generations, with adults, their parents, and sometimes even their grandparents all being hosted at Herring House at the same time.
In the current climate of economic squeeze, Sue says it’s very hard to get help to vulnerable people. In particular, it can be hard to get support from statutory mental health professionals for clients who also have drug or alcohol abuse issues. ‘Sometimes it seems we’ve gone back fifteen years,’ sighed Sue. ‘It’s the charities that pick up the slack.’
That’s why we’re really proud to do anything we can to help out this very special organisation.
Sue told us that ‘small achievements’ are the most important tool for recovery. Picking up a phone, going shopping by themselves, or choosing what to watch on TV can be huge steps into independence for people who’ve lived very chaotic lifestyles in which they’ve often felt powerless.
‘Their coping strategy for emotional problems is drink and drugs,’ Sue told us. ‘So they have to find out what it’s like to just live ordinary lives and take every day as it comes. Sometimes it’s even hard to cope with happiness and achievement’
‘Having a radio to listen to, a television to focus on can give you half an hour to think it’s OK, it’s not taking over my thought processes now. It’s escapism, they don’t just have to sit in silence.
‘They can go into the rooms and just lose themselves really, and it’s really nice because they’ve got music channels and suchlike which goes well with their meditation.’
Most of the residents haven’t had possessions for a long time, and being valued and trusted enough to have a TV in their rooms makes a huge difference. At Herring House, there is a real atmosphere of hope and support. Many of Sue’s clients are now living independently and volunteering to get used to the world of work, including one lady who volunteers back at the centre where she was living a year ago.
Amazing people working in small charities can make such a huge difference to people’s lives, and we’re overjoyed to help out.
To find out more about Herring House, visit their website