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Real Voices: Supporting homeless families to get back on their feet

Steph Hughes is a Service Manager with The Gingerbread Centre, which provides accommodation for homeless families and single pregnant women in and around Stoke-on-Trent. In this week’s Real Voices, she describes how the service supports homeless families and makes a safe and welcoming environment for them to get back on their feet.

The Gingerbread Centre was founded in 1977 in Cobridge, where we had two properties to support homeless families. In 2004 we moved to Rothesay Court, where we are now. We provide supported accommodation to homeless families, including single mums, single dads, pregnant women, and couples with children. In 2002 we collaborated with the local authority to open the teenage pregnancy unit in Hanley, for pregnant teenagers and teenage parents. That’s Catherine Court, which supports teenagers from ages 16-21. 

I have worked with the Gingerbread Centre for over twenty years, in a number of different roles. I am a Service Manager now, and I manage the accommodation unit along with two other managers. I started as a Night Project Worker, and then moved into doing resettlement support. This meant I was supporting families in the centre to be rehoused in the community. 

We try to make the centre as much like home as possible for the families. All the flats are self-contained, and families have access to support staff who will work with them on whatever issues have led to them becoming homeless. There are a number of factors which cause homelessness, such as mental health issues, substance abuse, domestic abuse, and any number of other reasons. We make a support plan with residents when they arrive that is tailored to their specific needs, and we work with them on whatever issues they want to work on. Ultimately, we’re aiming to get them the skills to enable them to move back into the community. We are staffed 24/7 for residents’ emotional support, and we have an activity club where parents can spend some quality time with their kids. We do trips away and days out, just to make life as normal as possible for them. 

The process of getting used to life at the centre is different for each family. For example, if a family has had to flee due to domestic abuse, they’ll have no contact at all with family members. They have to uproot their entire lives and take their children out of school, which is a real shock to the system.The centre can seem quite a scary place to come to. We try to be as welcoming as possible and put them at ease immediately. We give families plenty of time to settle in before we look at their support needs and start working with them. There’s no set time that families can stay at the centre for, as this depends on each case. Sometimes it can take a few months for families to be ready to leave the centre and get their own tenancy, and other families need a year or two before they’re ready to take that step. Younger people coming to the centre tend to need more time with us. We’ll get 16 year olds who normally stay with us for at least two years, because they legally can’t get their own tenancy until they turn 18. 

We’ve had loads of success stories over the years. Recently we’ve had residents that have gone on to college or university, and have careers now. We’ve got former residents who’ve come back to volunteer with us, which is always lovely. We had a lady who was with us at Rothesay Court, and was able to completely change her life around after moving back into the community and getting her own place. She came back to volunteer for us, and through that got a job working with a substance misuse service. 

The criteria for accessing our services is that you are either a parent, or you are pregnant, and you are either homeless or at risk of being made homeless. People can access our services via the local authority by declaring themselves as homeless to the council, who will refer them to us. Anybody looking to access our services also has the option to do a self-referral. You can ring us on 01782344740 or you can go to our website where we have a contact form. We get quite a few people who get in touch that way. We’ll either give them a referral for our service, or we’ll be able to point them in the right direction for support that they are eligible for. 

We’re always looking to expand and improve our services. We want to grow our support to include the community more, beyond just the accommodation that we provide.  We also want to try to do some prevention work as well, to try to reduce levels of homelessness in the community.