Kathleen McIntyre reflects on the service for the homeless developed by North Ayrshire churches.
Homelessness is a huge problem in Scotland and the consequences of this may include poor self-esteem and low confidence, loneliness and isolation, poverty, desperation and crime. There are also many physical problems associated with homelessness as well as mental health issues, which include depression, anxiety and withdrawal from society.
The main causes of homelessness include relationship breakdown, overcrowding, mortgage or rent arrears, individuals fleeing domestic violence or abuse, emergencies such as fire or flood, discharge from armed forces, hospital or prison or indeed losing a job.
Every area has its own set of difficulties, and in North Ayrshire the main cause of homelessness is addiction problems.
To combat the problem and support those who find themselves in this situation, the drop-in service known as Irvine Care and Share opened in October 2012. It aims to help adults who are homeless, vulnerable to homelessness or who have been homeless. These adults may have an addiction problem, mental health issues or feel marginalised and isolated.
The service is located in St Mary’s Church Hall in Irvine, Ayrshire and is open every Wednesday from 1pm-3pm. Service users can enjoy soup, a sandwich, biscuits tea or coffee, and there is also fresh fruit, as we take into account the nutritional value of the food.
Care and Share was initiated by Irvine Teen Challenge, which is linked to Fullarton Church. Teen Challenge is a registered charity that helps young people who have developed life-controlling or addiction problems. Irvine Teen Challenge wanted to use some of its funds to set up a service in Irvine for the homeless.
They had heard about Ayr Care and Share and felt Irvine would benefit from a similar service. That’s when they approached Neil Urquhart, the local minister, who gave his approval and support. We then went along for a visit to Ayr Care and Share to see how it was being run and we were very impressed. Ayr Care and Share is held in the Riverside Church in Ayr and is mainly run by volunteers. They allowed us to use the name Care and Share as long as we followed their model of not having any direct reference to religion by praying or praise music as they felt that could make some feel excluded.
We then formed a committee and recruited volunteers from different churches in Irvine, St Mary’s, St Andrews Episcopal congregation, Mure church of Scotland and Fullarton Church of Scotland.
We did not set up as a ‘lunch club’. We have various outside agencies visiting on a regular basis, including Teen Challenge, oral health, an optician, North Ayrshire Welfare Reform Teams, the NHS homelessness nurse, and Richmond Fellowship Addiction Services. Service users can access help and support from these agencies. We also have a hairdresser who comes in once a month and there are a number of activities and facilities, including laptops and printers.
We are completely self-funded. We have received donations from local businesses and volunteers collect at a local supermarket.
Best accolade? A service user designed our Care and Share poster and she wrote ‘Come along every Wednesday and enjoy a free light lunch, share in a supportive non-judgemental fellowship, develop new friendships and gain access to various local services/agencies.’ We hope that says it all.