Homeless people need jobs, not just homes, Leeds Council and a charity based in the city have said. The Howarth Foundation, set up two years ago by father and son Andy and Gavin Howarth, works with local businesses to find employment or training for homeless people and recovering addicts.
“What you tend to find is that people who have been homeless then get a flat, which is brilliant, but then what do you do all day?” said Gavin Howarth. “You need a purpose, you need meaning and we think employment offers that. Really what we’re trying to do at the foundation is engage the business community to try and help what we see as a social injustice.”
One of their success stories is Chris Sylvester. Becoming a heroin and crack addict in his early teens, he spent 20 years locked in crime, homelessness and addiction. But with the right help and support, Mr Sylvester was able to get a job with Leeds United, and is now an ambassador for the foundation.
Mr Sylvester describes his former self as ‘derelict’. “I went from pillar to post, from sofa to street, prison cell to police cell to hospital bed,” he told Sky News. “Being pushed away by everybody through my own actions. That’s addiction. Not willing to look at myself and work on myself.”
“There were some dark, dark times”. When asked what was the catalyst for his decision to change his life, he answers with one word: ‘Pain’. Now he hopes to encourage other businesses to take a chance on people like him, like Leeds United did.
The club’s MD, Angus Kinnear, is a strong supporter of the scheme. As well as Mr Sylvester, he has taken on two more of the foundation’s recommendations. “We have a unique platform in the city. Everybody in the city is a Leeds United supporter,” he said. “Our main job may be to win football matches, but we also have a community responsibility that we take very seriously.”
“We hope we can show the way forward to other businesses, and in this case we have had a real impact on these three lives in particular.” The council in Leeds says addressing the homeless issue isn’t simply about providing housing and services. Its strategy of prevention, intervention and recovery needs partners like the foundation to produce effective, long-term solutions.
Paul Money from Safer Leeds, the city’s community safety partnership, said: “Often the individuals we’re working with have really traumatic, complex needs and we need to think about wraparound support and a recovery agenda. “It simply isn’t enough just to provide housing when you’re dealing with people with such complex needs, and that’s where partners like the Howarth Foundation can be a fantastic resource.” Mr Sylvester is in full agreement.
“Having that sort of belief and moving over barriers, some self-imposed, but also society’s stigmas and attitudes, is something I would never have been able to do by myself,” he said. Gavin Howarth says the scheme is now supported by many businesses in Leeds, and is hoping that the government will now consider funding similar projects in towns and cities across the country.
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