By Jo Moulton, Content Creator
For the purposes of this article I tried to imagine the path I would take if I was suddenly to become homeless. Now, lets make no mistake, this really can happen to anybody. And there is every chance, through any given chain of events, that it could happen to me.
Did you know for instance, that the involuntary ending of a private sector tenancy is now the primary factor given for homelessness. 
That surprised me. Especially as I am a private tenant.
So, I tried to imagine if my landlord suddenly decided to sell his house that we have comfortably made our home for the last five years. Then I consider, well, we are not well off by any means. We have some savings, but not much. We are, like the growing majority of renters, a family who, and I can speak from my own experience here, have found it impossible to get on the property ladder.
So what if we play devil’s advocate and imagine, for instance, that a big life event has occurred. For many that find themselves homeless this might include a change or a loss of job, an illness, domestic violence, a relationship breakdown, a family death or the birth of a child. And if, on top of all that I was not lucky enough, as I am, to have a support network around to catch me, well then it’s easy to make a link between alcohol or drug misuse, poor mental or physical health, poverty and a complex web of issues and problems that are common to the many different stories behind the real people that find themselves counted in those homeless statistics you may or may not of heard before.
Like this one:
In the last five years, the number of homeless families living in temporary accommodation has increased by 48% 
Or this one:
We estimate that on any given night in 2019 there will have been just over 280,000 people who were homeless, which is a rate of 1 in every 200 people (Shelter, March 2018)
Having learnt this, it came to no surprise to me to hear, when I talked to homeless charity Alabaré Christian Care and Support, that their clients range in age from 18 through to 80.
I wasn’t surprised either to hear them say that ‘although sharing many common issues and challenges, each client is an individual, with unique responses.’ Because that homeless story for me that I’ve just imagined? It’s based on me having had the privilege of a loving family, a happy childhood and friends that have all allowed me the opportunity to do something with my life. But that simply is not the case for everybody is it?
No single life story is the same. No homeless story is the same. Homelessness is not just a matter of physics. And an answer is not a simple equation of person plus house equals… (although that, as I was about to find out, is not simple either.) The ‘maths’ involves a person. People are complex, complicated, fuzzy- as is the issue of homelessness.
My point here is to put us – me writer, you reader, in the place of someone whose life path has led them to need a stranger’s help. So that you can understand the esteem in which we, at Devon Community Foundation hold the groups that help them. Because to them every single one of those people that needs their help matters. They are not a statistic or a number. They are a person, just like you and I.
And in this case, they are a person without somewhere to call home.
And… to muddy the waters even more, they are now too, like us all, at risk of, and protecting themselves from the threat of the coronavirus.
Thankfully, there are groups out there like Alabaré Christian Care and Support, to answer their need for help.
Alabaré Christian Care and Support is a national charity that run a range of homes, drop in centres and support services dedicated to helping the homeless and vulnerable.
The charity was founded 28 years ago when an unwitting Reverend received a call from the local Baptist minister asking him to take in a homeless man whose local Christian community could no longer find a way to help him. What started with Bob’s refuge, continued over many years, through many personal guests of the Reverend until he and his family decided to start an appeal and buy a dedicated home in which to accommodate the referrals that just kept on coming.
Here in Devon, Alabaré have four homes based in the North of the county in Bideford and Barnstaple. And today, the people who live there are referred by the local authority and stay until they can be moved into independent living. Sounds simple… but remember that complicated part I referred to earlier?
I tried, in my imaginings, to continue to follow, metaphorically, the path I would have to take having found myself homeless. It is certainly not a simple path or a ‘one size fits all’. It is a complicated map of conditions and circumstances, much like the people it serves to help. I invite you, if like me you have no prior experience of this process, to fathom it at your own will.
Those who do find themselves via whatever path, at Alabaré’s homes can expect to be considered as part of a ‘household’. And this includes the staff members, who visit to monitor each resident’s welfare and who are there to provide support. That can include providing the know-how and skills needed to live independently, as well to link clients up with outside sources of specialist support – such as drug, alcohol or mental health specialists, GPs even.
I asked them how important the Christian ethos on which the organisation was founded is in their work today:
“Our organisation was, indeed founded on a Christian ethos and this ethos remains. Our values of care, compassion, generosity and respect are embedded in the support we provide. Although staff have to embrace these values, these are values shared by many faiths and those with none. Therefore Alabaré also embraces those who are of other faiths and of none.“
Practically, residents have their own furnished rooms and shared living areas- like a kitchen, bathroom, lounge, dining area and garden.
Their stay can be anything from 2 weeks to 9 months, maybe longer.
Now, if I’ve got you where I want you, you are now thinking what I’m thinking. A bigger household (the biggest Alabaré North Devon house homes 9 people) means a bigger risk of contracting and spreading Covid-19.
How different really in practical terms, are these set-ups from the care homes that we hear so much about that have been hit so hard by the virus?
“75% of our homeless clients have underlying health issues.”
(Coronavirus – How Alabare Are Helping Homeless & Vulnerable People)
Protecting the health and wellbeing of the residents and staff has required resources.
To this day Alabaré looks to the generosity of its partners, supporters, fundraisers and more, in order to survive.
And like the story we are hearing time and time again from the other hundreds of charities we’re involved in supporting, neither were they in a position to predict or to have prepared for this ruthless pandemic’s arrival and a newly acquired need for resources.
As a Community Foundation our mission statement is to be there to support the survival of thriving communities. One of the avenues by which we do this is by our grant making; that, in turn, is supported by like-minded individuals, families or collectives.
During this pandemic, like any other times in our operation we have not yet failed to be awed by other people’s abilities to give. Both financially, which has meant our being able to facilitate an emergency fund, or practically, in their care of others in our communities.
And it is thanks to that fund that we have been able to support this charity, like many others, with a grant to help them react to the outbreak and continue their care of others.
A care that first requires the wellbeing of themselves, by the use of PPE and cleaning materials for their housing staff.
“Many of our clients are have no family to turn to and we are their only form of support during this pandemic. Our clients are chaotic, fearful and require reassurance and support in order to self-isolate and social distance.”
The other outlay has been for tech.
“The biggest change for the clients is being unable to access external support groups. We have spent some of the budget on IT equipment to allow them to keep in touch with family and friends, for remote support sessions and to continue to do online training or bidding on properties.”
“We would like to say thank you for the very kind grant of £2,000 that will support our vulnerable adults in Devon at this difficult time. It is imperative we ensure the safety of our clients at the time and your support will play a vital part in that.”
And we would like to return that sentiment by saying thank for their incredible work. This is what two of their residents said about the their stay with Alabaré during the crisis:
“Staff have been absolutely fabulous throughout. As a 55 year old man, I was scared, really scared for the first time in my life. Staff were always there to be reassuring, checking on us daily. Staff are part of the family and fabric of life here. They knocked on our doors, making sure we had the means to self-isolate, with equipment for our rooms, cleaning stuff, hand wash and food. I am so grateful and feel this experience has brought us all closer together – staff and residents.”
“I am only 31 so didn’t feel as frightened for myself as some of the others but the IT equipment (Wi-Fi booster) staff purchased has meant that I can check on my family and friends every evening. The staff are brilliant and have made everyone feel a lot safer. They check on everyone daily but do it safely. We are not so worried now and have become a close knit group.”
We’d also like to thank everyone that has supported us so far, because without you, we simply could not do our bit either.
As for me, I may not be any further forward in really understanding the system that is in place to support the homeless, but I do know that it includes incredible organisations like this one, founded and operating on the basis that each and every person deserves a good life. Thank Bob for that.
Our fund still needs donations! We are currently working with the groups we have funded so far to understand what their next steps out of the pandemic might be, and how we can support that. One thing we know for sure is that they will need financial resources. Can you help?
Please click here to find out more about our emergency fund, including how you can support or apply to it.
 A Needs Report on Housing & Homelessness written by Devon Community Foundation’s Knowledge Guru, Nicola Frost.
Read the story of Bob and his home with Alabaré founder Reverend John Proctor here.
Read our Community Team’s Briefing about the picture rough sleeping in the face of Covid-19.