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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 November 2006, 16:16 GMT
The homeless - who should care?
By Janey Doyle
BBC News, Berkshire

Slough's community discuss helping the homeless, like Chris.

Chris is 36, he says he is a hard worker and does not have a drink or drugs problem.

Three months ago he got a job selling merchandise across the UK, but while in Hounslow, 300 miles away from his rented Newcastle home, the company disbanded and he found himself stranded and homeless.

"I'd thought about committing a crime to get sent to prison and then, through probation, I'd have somewhere to live after," he said.

"I was living and cooking in the forest, but then the weather got colder so I got to the A4 and it said turn right to London, turn left to Slough.

"I didn't want to get into the rut of being homeless on the streets of London."

Mandy McGuire at SHOC
Slough Homeless Our Concern has 300 users

Chris is now a volunteer for Slough Homeless Our Concern (SHOC) a day centre in Slough, Berkshire, which operates as a drop-in centre for the homeless.

There are people spilling out of the doors of the centre, where a cooked breakfast is being served in the small kitchen.

The centre seems bright and busy, but has peeling walls and looks well used.

Mandy Maguire, SHOC project manager, says: "We provide advice and assistance on housing benefit, health and substance misuse, emotional and tenancy support.

"We run IT lessons for clients, special afternoons for sex workers and provide home comforts - tea and coffee, hot meal, laundry facilities."

We shouldn't be able to afford to house immigrants and not afford to house homeless
Jackie Day

But Ms Maguire says her time at the moment is not spent working with clients, but trying to secure funding to keep SHOC open.

The centre has 300 users, and has survived since 2004 on donations.

"We need 45,000 between now and the end of March, our running cost is 10,000 a month and we've already had to make a member of staff redundant," said Ms Maguire.

Lottery funding

SHOC was set up following the popularity of a soup kitchen in 1997, with the backing of a national lottery grant.

But Ms McGuire explains that though SHOC's first three years was funded by the lottery grant, which was renewed for a further three years, it has now reached the maximum length of time the lottery can provide funds.

SHOC is the only homeless shelter in a 20-mile radius, with the nearest alternative in Oxford.

"Demand is there for a night shelter here, we would like to open one but it's down to finances," she said.

She added people sleep rough outside the centre because it had CCTV cameras "so they feel safe".

In Slough, the community has mixed thoughts on who should find help for the homeless and fund a centre like SHOC.

SHOC Kitchen
The centre needs 45,000 by March

Kamaldit Kaur, from Slough, said: "It's a big problem and the council should deal [with it], you see lots of people on the streets."

Jackie Day, who lives in neighbouring Windsor, said she had not seen many homeless people on the streets of Slough.

She added: "It's a council and government thing without a doubt, charities should get involved - anything they then add to the budget is fine.

"I don't think this country should have a homeless issue as at the end of the day we shouldn't be able to afford to house immigrants and not afford to house homeless people."

Slough Borough Council was unavailable to comment.


SEE ALSO
Race to save homeless day centre
20 Jul 05 |  Berkshire
Funding boost for homeless
11 Dec 03 |  Oxfordshire

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