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Supporting the homeless in Maidstone

Dean Dean

Dean attended Maidstone Day Centre over a period of four months when he became homeless. The only place he had to sleep was on an old boat belonging to a friend. It was cold, damp and uncomfort-able and when he first came through our door he had reached a very low point in his life. Our staff made sure that during the daytime he was warm, safe and well fed and eventually a room was available at a nearby hostel. Dean is now looking well and confident and is looking forward to the future.

“When you have been homeless for a while it becomes a way of life but now I have built myself up again and I have new friends. I am working as a volunteer in a charity shop and I have some experience as a gardener but my next step is to find full time employment. My dream job would be as an archivist with radio or television or music"


For most people it is impossible to imagine being homeless but as we always say, it can happen to anyone. 34 year old Vusa is a case in point, a smart, well educated man who only recently lost his home when his relationship broke down.

“I am temporarily homeless and I have been sleeping rough for several weeks now but still carrying on my job,” he told us. Vusa is 34 and he came to the UK from Zimbabwe in 2001 to be with his aunt. He studied electrical engineering at college before deciding that it wasn’t for him and he switched to a nursing degree access course. Caring is his first love and he continues to work in nursing homes, looking after elderly men and women. Knowing of the strong family traditions in his native Zimbabwe, we asked him for his thoughts.

“It is a different culture, in Zimbabwe old people stay in their homes with the family until they die and you look after them. When I first came here I thought, ‘how come people put their parents in homes?’ I just didn’t understand,

but eventually I got it, people here have to go out to work and there is no one at home to look after the elderly relative. When I was growing up my dad became blind and I would come home from school and look after him. He was unwell and often fitting and I had to take him on public transport to the hospital for an appointment so I know how difficult it is.”

Alongside his access to nursing course, Vusa has studied Autism and is working to go to university. “I am a hands on person,” he told us, “so I didn’t take more senior jobs because that would have meant more time at a desk; and I am not doing this because of the money.”

Vusa went to the council for help when he became homeless but because had had no local connection and is a fit, young man he was deemed not to be a priority need. Staff at Lily Smith House hostel, next door to Maidstone Day Centre, couldn’t offer him accommodation either but they told him to come and see us. “I have found it very helpful here, it is so homely and the staff are really amazing, “he said. “ I had heard of places like this but I had never been in one. They treated me so nice here. At the moment I am sleeping in the park or anywhere I can find and it has been pretty cold and uncomfortable. It is such a long night and it was a real shock to find myself sleeping rough. All the guys here at the Day Centre have their problems. You just don’t know what other people are going through so you should never ridicule or criticise them.”

But things are really looking up for Vusa. “I am quite good with money and I have secured myself a nice flat but I have to wait until next week until the other person moves out. So never say never because becoming homeless could happen to anyone and it must be part of the bigger plan for me.”

Homeless in Maidstone: Personal stories

Maidstone Day Centre 01622 674064

BrettJune6th140“The cold is the worst thing about being homeless . . . “

...and I suppose the loneliness,” said 53 year old Brett who for now is living in a tent in nearby countryside.

“I have a little camping cooker so at least I can heat up drinks and have some hot food. If it gets too cold I can put it on to take the chill off. I have permission from the land owners to stay there, “ he hastened to add, “I explained that I am homeless and they said that they didn’t have a problem with me being there. Just before Christmas I had a nice surprise when one of them came up for a chat and brought a big parcel of food for me and another homeless person who, like me, is living in a tent.”

Brett has been coming to the Day Centre for about six months. He had lived in a flat in Southampton but lost that because of problems with his Housing Benefit. He tried to find accommodation in Dorchester and then London but Local Authority accommodation for single homeless people is increasingly scarce throughout the UK. New rulings require prospective tenants to have a local connection and he wasn’t eligible.

Brett suffers from depression but thinks that is because he has been out of work for so long. “I did an engineering apprenticeship and got as far as the 3rd year,” he said. “ I do want to get a job but I have been out of work for so long, about 10 years now and it is a matter of getting someone to take me on. I have done warehouse work and a bit of care work, when I was looking after a chap in a wheelchair.” If you have been homeless for some time your self esteem can sink very low and it is hard to keep enthusiastic and motivated but Brett is doing his best. “There is a chance of some decorating work for one of the dog walkers I have made friends with where my tent is,” he said. Asked about his future he told us, “What I would really like is a bedsit, in a shared house.” This would be a chance for him to relax in a safe place and indulge his passion for reading. “I like scifi fantasy books but I have just got in to detective stories. If I get into a book I read until all hours, with my head torch,” he added.

“Apart from the depression, I am in fairly good health but the last couple of days I have come down with blisters on my feet because of all the walking I do.”

Brett reflected on his present lifestyle. “It is about getting the help you need to get out of the situation. I am getting that help here at the Day Centre.”

We caught up with Brett recently.

Previously when we met Brett he was at a pretty low point in his life, sleeping in a tent and wondering if he would ever have a proper roof over his head. Happily, a lot has changed since then.

“I am in a place of my own now,” he told Threshold, “it is a bedsit in a hostel and there is no set time limit to how long we can stay here. I have my own TV in my room. I have a chair and a bed so all I need now is a wardrobe and a table to put my laptop on. The bedsit is in a converted pub – only thing is there is no letter box so we have to go down the road to the office for our mail; mind you it means that we don’t get any junk mail!

When we asked about the prospect of finding work, Brett told us that he plans to look for work but that he is suffering from a chest infection, ”so I can’t do much at the moment, “he said. “ I am on antibiotics and steroids and I have had a chest X-ray so I am waiting for the results. I would like to get back into engineering, trouble is it is all computerised now.” It is some years since he has worked and his skills in toolmaking and lathes will have to be updated. Things move on so fast in industry that this is a problem for many people who have been out of work for a long period of time. As part of our service, we will be using our contacts to find out where he can get help he will need. Meanwhile, Brett is looking forward to meeting up again with his brother who has recently moved from California to Oregon. “He is supposed to be coming over here,” said Brett, “we keep in touch and he was very pleased that I had got into my flat. Everything is going well.

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