Catching Lives is a local charity that aims to support the homeless, rough sleepers, and the vulnerably housed in Canterbury and East Kent. James Duff, Chairman of Trustees, gave us a talk this lunchtime about the important work that the charity does.
James joined the Board of Trustees in 2009 and was elected as Chairman of the Board in 2012. What makes this particularly remarkable is that James was once homeless himself – something which gives him additional insight into homelessness and how Catching Lives can help those who find themselves in such a situation.
A shortage of local authority housing and of affordable private housing in the local area (the latter thanks to a high demand for student accommodation) means that many local people (the charity’s “clients”) can find themselves homeless and vulnerable. For most it’s not a choice. James remarks: "Most of our clients would come off the street tomorrow if they could".
The charity helps the homeless in a variety of ways. Firstly, it has a day centre called Canterbury Open Centre in Station Road East - not far from Canterbury East Rail Station - which offers the homeless immediate respite and gives them access to everyday facilities such as showers, toilets, a laundry room, a phone, a computer and so on. Clients are also provided with basic but nutritious meals (currently breakfast, lunch and dinner) and given assistance to access accommodation, healthcare (e.g. registering with a GP) and other specialist support.
All too often clients have mental health issues or problems with addiction or other complex concerns, so they also receive social and emotional support and advice. The Centre has its own Mental Health Outreach Service on site which is accessible at all times.
Catching Lives also offers practical help, e.g. providing clothing, bedding and toiletries. It also provides a postal address which can be used for National Insurance purposes and by those applying for jobs etc.
In the winter months (1st December - 28th February), when the homeless are at their most vulnerable, Catching Lives provides shelter at a number of church venues around Canterbury - with assistance from volunteers. Places are limited and some clients, through necessity or in rarer instances through choice, will continue to live in woods and near the marshes around Kent.
Clients are of different age groups - though there are a lot of 18-20 year olds. Although there are some clients in their 60s, older people often have health issues which means that they can receive support from the Council. It’s often the younger people who “fall between the cracks”.
After realizing that it’s good for clients to get involved in activities that help give a sense of self-worth, Catching Lives has started to involve clients in a number of art and recreational activities. Later this year they hope to have an exhibition at the Beaney.
Naturally, the charity is also heavily involved in community work and campaigning.
The charity also has a bookshop in Canterbury, run by volunteers, which raises money to support some of the services that it provides. Many people will know it as the Crooked House (Sir John Boys House or Old King's School Shop) in Palace Street.
One thing that was interesting for us to learn is that it’s far harder for those with dogs to find any sort of accommodation - which can be a tough position to be in for those who’ve relied on their loyal pet for warmth, comfort and companionship in their hardest times.
Our Rotary Club has helped support the Centre in the past; following visits there we truly appreciate the work that Catching Lives does to help those who have "for many reasons, fallen through the gaps in society and feel they have nowhere else to turn".
Asked to give his wish list in a few words, James said: "Housing and support,"and the charity is heavily dependent on the hard work and efforts a volunteers and fundraisers and on contributions (financial and otherwise) from donors.
If you want to know more about Catching Lives (including how to volunteer or donate) please visit their website.
Facebook: Catching Lives
Picture: President Sharon Jordan with James Duff of Catching Lives.