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We're doing our bit for those left out in the cold
2:00pm Saturday 21st December 2013 in Southend
SOME of us have negative preconceptions about the homeless – and Utopia Coffee Lounge owner Stephen Holford was no different.
He was approached by Southend street pastor Del Thomas earlier this year at his cafe, in Heygate Avenue, about providing coffees for the homeless in Southend. The idea was simple – customers would be given the opportunity to buy a coffee which could be made later for a homeless person.
Mr Holford said: “When he first mentioned it, I genuinely thought he was talking about a different way of making filter coffee.
“It sounded like a nice idea, but I didn’t think it was for me. At the time I was thinking about my business and didn’t want what I then thought would be smelly, drunk and possibly aggressive people in the shop.
“But then I got a call from BBC Essex saying they understood I was thinking about it so I decided to put it on trial.
“It was through that experience I found that the majority of homeless people are incredibly approachable, friendly and polite people.
“It’s completely changed my opinion and, so far, it’s been a very positive thing for the shop too.”
Since September, Mr Holford has served more than 220 coffees, averaging more than three and a half cups a day, and said it was a great way for the public to do something small to make a big difference to people’s lives.
He added: “It’s ideal for someone who wants to give something to a homeless person, but doesn’t want to give them money they perceive might be spent on drugs or alcohol, or meet them face to face. I have about 25 people regularly giving suspended coffees and a few people buy as much as £10 worth a week.
“It reallymakes a difference. One of the nicest things that has happened to me was when three men walked in one day.
“They were foreign and one had a very badly broken nose. They asked for a coffee and I told them grab a seat and I would come out to them.
“The look of incredulity on their faces when I was serving them coffee was amazing.”
PAUL Slennett, owner of Southend’s Christian bookshop, is also doing his bit to help homeless people with drug or alcohol addiction this Christmas.
Charities in Southend, such as Harp, provide hostels and shelter for homeless people and many churches offer hot meals. However, these services are generally not open to those with drug or alcohol addictions.
So Mr Slennett, 66, who is a Congregationalist Christian, and street pastor, is launching a campaign and raising funding to open a “wet house” in Southend, in which homeless people can have their own room and where there are no restrictions on alcohol.
The idea originated in America and involves giving support to long-term alcohol misusers who are unable or unwilling to use other forms of supported rehabilitation.
The goal for most is a gradual improvement in health and quality of life.
Mr Slennett said: “Meeting two homeless women near the shop a few weeks ago and hearing they had been on the streets for years really brought home to me the scale of the problem.
“Both are alcoholics so, although churches are providing night shelters, they cannot enter that system.
“Every human being is entitled to dignity and accommodation, and I believe having their own room in a wet house can be an important first step for many people in regaining that dignity.”
To get involved in the campaign, visit Paul at the shop in London Road or call 01702 344008.
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