Who We Help

rough sleepers

Here in Lewes we have seen an increasing number of people bedding down in doorways. It’s a national issue. In 2018 the homeless charity Crisis commissioned research which indicated that the number of rough sleepers in the UK was around 22,000 – with 12,300 sleeping on the streets and around 12,000 spending nights in cars, buses, trains or tents.

Single men make up over 80% of rough sleepers and are unlikely to be considered a priority for homing by the local authorities.

Apart from extreme temperatures, rough sleepers are often exposed to abuse, with homeless people almost 17 times more likely to be victims of violence and 15 times more likely to be verbally abused compared to the general public (source: Crisis).

© Catherine Benson
Before I volunteered I was scared of talking to homeless people. But chatting with the guests has taught me so much and now I understand the difficulties they have faced.
— volunteer

vulnerable people

There are a number of vulnerable people in our community.

By vulnerable, we include those that may have a very low income, relying on benefits and finding it impossible to budget for their weekly food and clothing. They may have problems with private rented housing and spiralling rents. They may currently be housed in temporary accommodation. They may be experiencing mental illness or finding life difficult after a relationship breakdown. They may have alcohol or drug related addictions and little support to try to address these health issues, or combat feelings of loneliness.

We can direct people to the right agencies to help address their specific needs, but in the first instance, Lewes Open Door offers a safe space where someone can have a healthy meal (or a chocolate biscuit if they prefer!) a cup of tea and find a friendly non-judgemental face and a listening ear.

© Catherine Benson

socially isolated

It’s not just rough sleepers and homeless people whose lives are diminished by isolation, and feel excluded from mainstream society. 

Social isolation, exclusion and loneliness is often associated with older people, especially those who may have lost a long-term partner. For example, Age UK estimate that one million older people in the UK can go for a whole month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member.

But loneliness and social isolation can affect people of all ages, for example full-time carers, unemployed adults and those with long-term medical conditions. It can have a significant impact on health and well-being, both physical and mental.

Research commissioned by Public Health England demonstrated that positive social relationships and networks can promote health by:

  • Providing individuals with a sense of belonging and identity

  • Sharing knowledge on how to access health and other public information and services

  • Influencing behaviour, for example through support to quit smoking, help with drug addiction, reduce alcohol intake, or to access health care when needed

  • Providing social support to cope with challenges such as pressures at work, or life changes such as redundancy or retirement  

Problems may vary, but the human needs are just the same.  And addressing those needs is a big part of Lewes Open Door’s vision.

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© Catherine Benson

How We Help

All our guests have a range of basic, everyday needs. So first and foremost, at our daily lunchtime drop-in homeless centre at Westgate Chapel, we provide tasty nourishing meals, clean clothes, bedding and a place to wash.

We also provide friendly non-judgemental human contact – the chance to meet, talk and be listened to.

We can also help our guests find specialist, longer-term help and support they need such as:

  • Registering with a GP

  • Emergency dental treatment

  • Accompanying them to a Job Centre interview

  • Applying to local housing charities

  • Getting access to benefits

  • Making appointments with the relevant council departments

  • Arranging transport to hospital and making hospital visits

In addition to our daily daytime drop-in we are opening our Winter Night Shelter on the 9th of November 2019, with the support of a group of Lewes churches.

© Catherine Benson

Recent Case Studies

  • Kieran, a rough sleeper in Lewes, had a blood clot and was very ill. He had no family or friends to turn to, but found our phone number on the Lewes Open Door website. We visited him in hospital several times, providing food, clothes and support.

  • One of our regular guests, Pete, has a wonderful big dog, which is always well behaved with a glossy coat and obviously very loyal. He confided how he might not have survived the last winter without her companionship and the sense of responsibility he had to stick around for her. Over lunch one day Pete told us that he was really worried, she wasn’t drinking enough water and was off her food but he couldn’t afford vets’ fees. We were able to direct him to an Animal Welfare Charity who granted him enough money to have blood tests taken for her, and was subsequently advised on some minor dietary adjustments which made all the difference.

  • One of our volunteers has helped Richard, a rough sleeping heroin addict to get on the STAR program (a free dedicated drug and alcohol community recovery service). He’s now on methadone, housed and has his benefits sorted. And although life still isn’t straightforward for Richard, we are continuing to support him.

  • It was reported to us that one of our regular guests, Jim, was unable to walk having got a severely infected leg. A couple of volunteers went out to find him. He was hidden away in a doorway behind a building. He had no water and was severely ill. Thanks to the relationship between the homeless community and volunteers we were able to find Jim in time.

(All names changed to protect identity.)


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