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Supporting those experiencing homelessness in Winchester

Special Interest Programme / Partner story

The Winchester Beacon was founded in the heart of Winchester city in the south of England in 1988 to provide emergency shelter to people experiencing homelessness during the winter months. Today, The Beacon is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week shelter supporting between 100 – 150 people annually. Over the decades, thousands of men and women have managed to escape homelessness with its support.

Currently, it offers ten single bedrooms to people experiencing homelessness, as well as three ‘move-on’ homes that house 12 people for the longer term until they are ready to move on. The Beacon also provides wrap-around support, including counselling, nutritious meals, and a wide-ranging programme of practical and emotional support to help people break the cycle of homelessness and rebuild their lives.

The most common factors cited as contributing to homelessness are often complex and interlinked. They include relationship breakdown, mental and physical ill health, financial issues, unemployment and substance misuse. To help people facing these problems, The Beacon’s services include: one-to-one advocacy; help and support with housing, budgeting, and finances; assistance with benefits; practical aid with food and nutrition; guidance for anyone with substance misuse problems; counselling and psychotherapy; and a wide range of training and recreational activities.

Lorraine Hood is a counsellor at The Beacon. “I think the difference here with counselling is that people can put their story together, which might not be something that they never had the chance to do,” she says. “There’s a huge amount of trauma, and that’s often managed with addictive behaviour. There’s a huge amount of abuse in people’s lives. They need someone to listen that doesn’t feel overwhelmed by their story.”

“When I got to Winchester Beacon it’s like everybody that I need to help me is found in this building,” says one programme resident. “I am just so grateful and so excited. Even though it is a scary experience, I know that the people that are next to me helping me and are not judging me.”

“We wanted to provide some sort of way out of homelessness; we wanted to provide a light out of homelessness, and so The Beacon became that,” says vice-chair Sarah Davis. “Our aim is to move people on through support, by giving counselling, help, and advice, by filling in forms, by helping them move onto the next steps.”

There is no fixed timeline, and residents can stay for anything between a few weeks to a year or more. An average stay is 116 nights. Residents can then move into what is known as a “move-on” house, if they want. The Beacon provides several of these houses, where the person joins a small community in one of the houses, and they learn to cooperate with each other and live peacefully together. “We really try to keep in touch with everybody that moves on,” says Debbie Hewson, advocate and support worker, Winchester Beacon. “Even when they move out of here, we continue to support them, whether that be a phone call, a visit, just so that they know somebody’s there. A lot of our guys are lonely, you know, and don’t have a family.”

People also learn how to budget their money, and The Beacon gives tenancy training sessions to help the tenants learn what their rights and responsibilities are. “It’s my job to build their self-esteem back up, build their confidence back up, to get them into employment, and so they’re ready to fly,” says Debbie.
 Oak Foundation’s Special Interest Programme (SIP) is supporting The Winchester Beacon to continue carrying out its services. SIP covers a wide range of fields, including environment, health, humanitarian relief, education, and the arts. To find out more about SIP, click here. To find out more about The Winchester Beacon, click here.