The range of outcomes we are witnessing is very encouraging. It has always been our objective to address the underlying causes of poverty and to see people's circumstances transformed and this is exactly what is happening.
The very wide range of multiple and complex needs and difficulties that people come to us with does present a very unique and specific challenge to us but the policies, procedures, training and the skills and abilities of the teams in the various centres is proving very effective in being able to support people through it all.
Above and below is just a very small selection of the different situations and outcomes we are seeing through the work we do.
Case Study 1
A recent case study reveals how a young single mother with two young children was referred to us by her children's school. The mother had recently lost her job. Her benefits were taking time to kick in due to the investigation as to how and why she had lost her job. Debts through crisis loans were mounting up in an attempt to feed her children and herself. When she came to us she was in despair and depression. We started to provide a weekly supply of healthy food, which she was able to choose for herself, and we also provided support care by one of our well trained Outreach Support Care volunteers. Over time she started to regain her confidence and began looking for work. Her benefits began but we continued to provide food so she had funds to begin to repay her debts. We also continued with the outreach care and encouragement as she searched for a job. In mid January she secured herself a job with her first pay cheque on 3rd February. This is when we stopped providing food and support. By the end of the year she had found herself an even better job and she has now become a key volunteer helping others who find themselves in need as she was.
Case Study 2
Another case study reveals how a single father with one teenage daughter was referred to us by St Mungo's after the loss of his job put him into severe financial difficulty. To make matters worse, his teenage daughter got caught up in anti-social behaviour and was remanded into a young offenders facility for 6 months in Bristol meaning the father had his benefits reduced. However, his rent remained the same and the net result of this was that his outgoings exceeded his income. He was trying desperately to hold onto his two-bedroom flat so that his daughter had a home to come back to upon her release. In an effort to make ends meet he was regularly going without food for days, becoming hungry, weak, ill and started to suffer from depression. We were able to provide him with a healthy food diet to help him and provided additional support through our well trained outreach support care. In time he started to regain his confidence. He applied for a part-time job which he secured. He is now working 12 hours a week and is earning enough to be taken off job seekers allowance. He is doing so well that he is being offered additional hours when they are available. At the end of a 13 week probation period he is hoping to secure a permanent contract with higher hours so that he is in a better position to support his daughter when she returns home and help her rehabilitate and not re-offend. He also completed our pilot Money Smart Work Wise Course.
Case Study 3
BG is a lady in her 40s, who was homeless 2 yrs ago, due to escaping a violent marriage. She is working extremely hard to recover from this, and was referred to us by her keyworker at one of the hostels in Bristol. She was really struggling with debt as a result of having to pay various court fines/cost incurred by her children and as their named responsible adult has been duty bound to pay them. She also demonstrated to housing services that she is ready to move up to stage 2 housing and has since moved into a self contained unit in a local housing project. By giving her food we have enabled her to continue to pay her debts and prevented further debt. We have also provided help with furniture and crockery. She has also found the support in the FOOD PLUS CENTER from chatting with volunteers very useful and is hoping to start some courses to improve her maths and English, so that her employment prospects improve.
Case Study 4
TM only came for help with food twice. He was referred to us as his benefits had been stopped unexpectedly, so he had to appeal this decision. During this time he was landed with a hefty fuel bill and had no money to buy food. By providing food for him, we prevented him from going hungry and from incurring debt, and having his electricity cut off.
AB is a single mum with 4 teenage children. She was referred to us by a local secondary school, who was shocked to discover that on a home visit, there was no food in the cupboard and that she was struggling with living costs of 5 people to provide for. She has various longstanding issues having been the victim of abusive relationships which has had an impact on how she forms healthy relationships. She also has various medical problems that are influenced by stress, which then have an impact on her ability to work - for example she has rheumatoid arthritis and currently is struggling with swelling, pain and movement in her joints. She is very anxious as she is currently receiving JSA, but is struggling to find work that is suitable for her- her mobility in her hands makes it hard to find work and as this is an intermittent illness, she has been declared fit to work, despite being ill some of the time. We have been able to support the family with food and prevented AB and her 4 teenagers from going hungry.
We have also provided a listening ear to AB and have spent much time with her. This has resulted in a very trusting, but not dependant relationship and we have been able to enlist some help from a local psychologist, who has offered her time for free. AB knows that she needs to address some of her past influences so that she can move forward in her own personal relationships and more importantly, maintain healthy relationships with her children.
Case Study 6
GP is a single mum with 2 children. She has recently split from her partner, who used her name and bank accounts and has left her with massive debts. She came to us thoroughly depressed, with little hope of seeing a way forward or hope that she would ever be debt free. She has been really motivated as a mum and has sought help by engaging in a counselling programme to address the way she forms relationships and develops boundaries within those new relationships; sought debt advice and by receiving food aid from us has been able to make a large dent in the debt. She is a transformed person. When she first arrived, GP was hunched, lacking in ability to engage in conversations- now she has regained her confidence and is much more conversational and is so relieved and grateful that her debt is slowly disappearing.
Case Study 7
AM is a single gentlemen with fairy extreme mental health needs and has fallen victim to be unable to speak for himself and find appropriate help. He has recently had an acute psychotic episode, which meant that he needed to stay with his parents to help him through this and find the right medication. During this time his council flat flooded and as he wasn’t there-the whole place went mouldy and he lost everything. He is currently sleeping on the floor of a damp flat with no furniture or fittings.
As a result of not being able to sign on due to his health –all of his benefits have been stopped- so he has no income. He has asked the council to help with his flat and they have told him they have no obligation to do so as he vacated the premises for a month. He has put in a new claim with the help of Bristol CAB, who referred him to us.
AM walked 8.5 miles to receive food from us as this was his only option for food. In doing so he missed a crucial appointment with his dentist. We rang the dentist on his behalf and as he had missed a previous appointment during his psychotic episode, they were adamant they were going to strike him off. We explained, with AM’s permission, the situation and they have allowed him another chance- thankfully. We are also hoping to help with some furniture from a local Samaritan who stores unwanted furniture in their garage. A local charity shop has agreed to give him some clothes.
Case Study 8
Mr.R was referred to us by Shelter, as he and his family were experiencing a long delay in their benefits claim. Mr.R was trying to support himself, his wife, his 10 children and his sick brother on £87 per week, which included paying rent on a private let. They had applied for tax credits and child benefit. Even though we supported them the family with food, they continued to incur debts. We advised them to seek help from a lawyer through Advicewest. Their case was taken on and it went to judicial review, whereupon they were awarded their allowances plus a back payment. We supported them for five months and prevented them from going hungry.
Case Study 9
HB fled Iran due to persecution on religious grounds-he feared for his life, having seen other friends and relatives executed in front of him. When he arrived in this country he was placed in an asylum hostel. Once he was granted asylum- he had to leave this hostel, despite having nowhere to go and no money to live on. He received food aid from us whilst waiting for his national insurance number and benefits to arrive. During this time he was homeless and either sofa hopped or slept on the streets. We tried to find him a placement in a hostel and it wasn’t until the cold weather beds were opened that we were able to help-we then secured one of these beds for 7 days. On the last day HB was fortunate to receive news of a bedsit, however he is still waiting for benefits to arrive, despite the fact he has had notification of his benefits being approved.
These cases are just a snapshot of the stories we hear on a regular basis. Most are related to relationship difficulties and changes in benefits and the debt incurred by these changes in status. Many times we have heard how benefits have been stopped with no notification- completely disempowering and panicking people. The notification always comes after the benefit has changed. Just by the simple act of allowing people time over a cup of tea and giving them choice, thus empowering and building confidence, it is amazing how small acts can bring transformation in people’s lives. Many clients are deeply worried about the pending changes in benefits and often comment on the lack of compassion and care shown by the people who work in benefits offices- all of our clients have expressed a deep desire to work and improve their situations. They are all deeply worried about the pending closure of so many Job Centres and how it is all going to be managed by phone lines….many of our clients do not have the skills to cope with telephone conversations-some have said how they just end up in a garbled mess, crying as they don’t understand what is being asked of them.
Every day is different in the FOOD PLUS Centres and whilst we hear of many tragic situations we also carry the hope, that by listening, by working with our knowledge base and with other agencies we can help improve significantly the day to day living of these amazingly resilient and humble people, in as dignified a manner as we possibly can.