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News | Homelessness Sleeping bags

and tents plea ANappeal has been made for tents and sleeping gear to cater for Maid- stone’s increasing homeless popu- lation. The Maidstone Day Centre,

which provides food and shelter for the homeless during the day, has 70 people on its register. It is estimated

Zofia Grzymala

that 80% of those sleeping rough retreat to tents at night, with many spending their

days in the town centre’s streets. Zofia Grzymala (33), who man-

ages the day centre in Knightrider Street, said: “The problem is that some people think that the home- less just need help at Christmas or during the winter when it is cold. “But people still need to eat and

even if it is warm and sunny dur- ing the day they will still need something warm at night. Warm clothes, sleeping bags, blankets and tents are all needed, and any help would be much appreciated.” Zofia, who took over from Sue

Tallowin in August last year, said about 40 people attend the day cen- tre daily. She added: “Not every- one is sleeping rough on the streets; some are sleeping in cars, others are sofa-surfing.”

Advice on offer MAIDSTONE Day Centre offers more than food andwarmth. Staff and volunteers at the centre,

in Knightrider Street, offer help and support on a range of issues in- cluding addiction problems, job in- terviews and benefits.

How to help HOMELESS Care is an um- brella organisation bringing to- gether Maidstone Day Centre, Food For Thought, Goodsell House (a 10-bed hostel in Ton- bridge Road) and Maidstone Christian Care. It employs six staff and turns

over £114,000 per year. Donations can be made to Homeless Care in a number of ways.  By cheque: Payable to Home- less Care and sent to The Treas- urer, Homeless Care, 6 Denton Close, Maidstone, Kent ME15 8ER. By bank transfer: Sort code 40- 52-40; account number 00023904.  Online: Click on the Donate button at www.maidstoneday-

St Simon Stock School pupils Evan Brignull, Michaele D’Souza and James Williams with other volunteers

Delivering the goods

VOLUNTEERS help in many differ- ent ways, including behind the wheel. The Food For Thought scheme

has its own vans, and drivers such as David Park and Anita Crayford pick up food and goods from businesses and donors across Maidstone and return them to the day centre. “It is great for fitness,” said Anita.

“Instead of joining a gym, I return to the day centre with pots and food and do lots of lifting. It is a re- ally good workout. The most bizarre things we pick up are flowers – but everyone needs cheering up every now and then.” The vans are then restocked and goods are delivered to locations

such as old people’s centres, hostels, hospices and children’s organisa- tions.

“There is much excitement when

you unload because peoplewant to find out what they are going to be eating that day,” Anita added. Kathy High, a trustee, said: “We

are always very grateful for the members of the public, churches, schools and other organisations who give us regular donations.” Churches and schools are particu-

larly generous during harvest festi- vals in the autumn. Pupils from St Simon Stock School, in Oakwood Park, Maid- stone, have been notably generous in the past year.

Rise in homelessness ‘is due towait for benefits’

Continued from page one

in the North East so I was amazed coming down to see the problems replicated here. “I have noticed more people in doorways with their polystyrene cups asking for money than when I arrived five years ago. “I know people from Africa who

see us as a wealthy country and it is hard to explain to them how we can't organise ourselves to make some of our great efforts – such as the Food For Thought campaign – redundant.” About one in five of those at- tending Maidstone Day Centre have had housing benefits stopped or amended due to recent Govern- ment sanctions. Diane Nicholls, branch manager for Friends of Maidstone Day Cen-

Homeless Care, said: “The chal- lenge is how to support and help homeless people so that they go back to independent living and not return to the streets. “It is painful to see how home- lessness has increased in recent months and years; keeping people waiting 34 days for benefit pay- ments compounds the problem.We are working with our partners to reduce the numbers of homeless people.” He added that Homeless Care’s

The Cricketers’ Arms, Mote Road

tre, said: “The number of peoplewe are feeding at the centre is at a max- imum, so we need more food to reach out to those in need.” Mike FitzGerald, chairman of

new hostel, the former Cricketers’ Arms pub in Mote Road, Maid- stone, would be open once legal is- sues had been resolved. Planning permission has already

been granted for the building to be converted into a shelter for seven rough sleepers.

Feeding those

in most need HOMELESS Care’s Food For Thought initiative began in 2005 as a community food share scheme to help the vulnerable and people who have fallen on hard times. It operates out of Maidstone Day Centre in Knightrider Street and was the brainchild of its former manager Julie Davies. She had been working as a family liaison officer and noticed that children were going to bed hungry and coming into school having not eaten any breakfast. Bakery chain Bakers Oven (since bought out by Greggs)was the first large company to help, donating surplus bread at the end of each day’s trading. Other shops and businesses joined in, providing money, food and other resources. Funding is received from organi- sations such as Maidstone Council and KCC. The scheme prides itself on tai-

loring food parcels for individual circumstances and sometimes going beyond the call of duty. Zofia Grzymala, manager of Maidstone Day Centre, said: “We recently had a single mum who had broken up with her partner so had to give up her job to look after her son. She was waiting for her benefits to start so needed help. “Itwas her son’s birthday the fol- lowing day so aswell as giving her a food parcel we included some flowers and chocolates for her and toys as a present for him.”


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