Worrying trend as homeless toll in Sheffield grows

Sheffield Town Hall
Sheffield Town Hall

NUMBERS of homeless and other vulnerable people seeking help in Sheffield are going up - at the same time as financial pressures are growing on one of the city’s key charities.

Around 90 people are turning every day to the Archer Project at Sheffield Cathedral, compared with 65 to 75 earlier in the year.

Meanwhile, the charity is faced with trying to find £130,000 from donations this year against a background of contributions becoming tighter.

Managers believe that one of the factors could be the consequences of a shortage of social and rented accommodation.

But chief executive officer Tim Renshaw said: “We don’t really know why. It would be easy to say it is because of the economic climate, but traditionally there is a time lag.”

People losing their jobs or finding life difficult may first turn to family and friends before the strain begins to tell and relationships break down.

Whatever the reason, Mr Renshaw said: “It is a cause for concern. If it gets any higher, then the centre will be stretched.”

In particular, the ambition of working with people one-to-one comes under pressure. “It gets to the point where it’s nearly impossible. If we can make it no more than 80, we can continue to do the work we do well.”

The Archer Project, which started 21 years ago in an old hall in the Cathedral, moved to West Bar and has been running for five years in a purpose-built centre at the back of the Cathedral, is a one-stop shop to help people get their lives back on track.

It is used by people with drug and alcohol problems, street workers, probation clients, asylum seekers, refugees and others who have simply fallen on hard times.

Facilities range from education classes, health services and a postal address to showers, a laundry and a guiding hand through the maze of housing and other benefits.

Not everybody can be helped, and there are occasional problems with street drinkers on the Cathedral forecourt, but managers believe that the centre plays a crucial role in helping the city to address some of its most difficult social problems.

However it costs £410,000 a year to pay 12 staff and to run the premises off Campo Lane, despite the rent being subsidised by the Cathedral. As for many charities, the financial position is getting tough, with what Mr Renshaw fears could turn into a “scary, black hole”.

A lottery grant is providing £110,000 a year over three years, £65,000 is coming from a government social fund and there are grants of between £5,000 and £20,000 from various pots.

Channel 4 TV’s Secret Millionaire resulted in valuable national exposure last year, a one-off donation of £30,000 and £15,000 a year over three years.

“People are very generous with donations of food and clothing, but we still need to pay the utilities and the rent,” said marketing and development manager Tracy Viner.

“We still need the pounds, shillings and pence.

“We are still getting the same quantity of donations, but the level of sponsorship for events is lower.

“It’s not that people don’t want to support us, it’s that they have not got as much money to give, and I understand that.

“We are not in dire straits yet, but we want people to be aware of the work we are doing to ensure we can make a difference to our clients.”

Mr Renshaw is convinced of the value of the Archer Project in offering some of Sheffield’s most vulnerable people a sense of purpose as an alternative to a life of boredom, meaninglessness, drugs and alcohol.

He said: “There are people alive today who would not be alive without the centre. They realise there is more to life than a life on the sidelines.”