The volunteers keeping the Hastings, Bexhill, Eastbourne and Lewes homeless fed, warm and well
Just over five years ago, a small group of friends started taking blankets, food and hot drinks to people sleeping rough in Hastings in a bid to make life on the streets just that little more bearable.
What they couldn’t have foreseen was how their small acts of kindness would snowball, and ultimately lead to the formation of one of the biggest homeless charities in the south east.
Warming Up The Homeless operates out of its distribution centre in Wickham Avenue in Bexhill under the stable leadership of CEO Trudy Hampton.
Speaking about the charity’s humble beginnings, Trudy said: “It was a couple of ladies sitting in a pub with a pint.
“It was bitterly cold and pouring with rain and a homeless man walked past and they wondered what happened to homeless people.
“The next week they brought out blankets and jackets.
“The next week they took coffee and sandwiches and everyone wolfed it down.
“And Warming Up The Homeless was born.”
Right back at the beginning, in November 2015, the charity had just four or five volunteers seeing 15 people a week in the Hastings area.
Now Warming Up The Homeless feeds more than 600 men, women and children a week in Hastings, Bexhill, Eastbourne, Lewes and the surrounding area.
In 2020, the charity helped 857 people off the streets into accommodation.
The Warming Up The Homeless outreach team distributes food, hot drinks, clothes, toiletries, sleeping bags and anything else that helps people sleeping on the streets stay well, fed, warm and clean.
The teams visits Bexhill and St Leonards daily, Eastbourne four times a week and Hastings will soon be five times a week, thanks to the introduction of a new Sunday Supper Club in the town.
Over the last five-and-a-half years, Warming Up The Homeless has continued to evolve and expand its focus from distribution rounds to offering furniture to people moving into temporary accommodation, setting up a food bank, vegan bank and a baby bank.
In 2020 alone, 5,400 people were provided with food from the food bank.
Trudy said: “The common reasons people give for their homelessness is friends or family are no longer willing or able to accommodate, behaviour attributed to mental health, short hold tenancy, cost and shortage of housing, undiagnosed or misdiagnosed mental health issues or other complex issues.
“The general public do not understand. They think it’s all to do with drugs. And it’s really not.”
Warming Up The Homeless is apolitical and nonreligious and boasts a small army of volunteers, including retired GPs, paramedic practitioners, mental health nurses and police officers, all contributing to the 2,000 volunteering hours a week which keeps the charity running smoothly.
Trudy said: “We have 300 volunteers, all DBS checked. Those on outreach are trained in safeguarding by East Sussex County Council.
“Our team leaders are trained further in safe guarding, the Care Act, Mental Health Act and everything else in between. We have trained in suicide prevention and suicide awareness.
“We are hot on training our volunteers.
“It’s about self-development as well as development for the charity.”
Warming Up The Homeless also provides support for its outreach volunteers who often come face-to-face with some distressing situations.
Trudy explains: “We do have two voluntary counsellors.
“Sometimes on outreach it is quite distressing, so our volunteers can call our counsellors at any time.
“It’s completely discreet and confidential.”
Warming Up The Homeless enjoys an abundance of support from businesses in the areas which it covers.
Sponsorship from Hastings Direct enabled the charity to purchase a new outreach van while local branches of Nationwide last week teamed up with Warming Up The Homeless to launch a new scheme to make it easier for homeless people to get a bank account, as well as providing support with how to use it.
Trinity Wholefoods in Hastings supplies Warming Up The Homeless with a monthly food parcel while Wickham Bistro, just over the road from the charity’s distribution centre and recently-opened second charity shop, also goes above and beyond to help feed those in need.
Trudy explains: “Wickham Bistro make dinners for us for our food bank, which we freeze and give out to those who have got microwaves so they have nice, nutritious food. This week they dropped off roast dinners.”
Recently some of the homeless communtiy were offered free, Covid-safe haircuts courtesy of Adam from Adam’s Barbers of Bexhill.
Trudy said: “He just did their hair so quickly and the difference in them afterwards was amazing.
“The difference was huge because Adam treated them with respect and dignity.
“And they do not usually get that.
“Adam was amazing.”
As well as working closely with local businesses, Trudy and the team have formed some solid community partnerships with statutory agencies, local councils, St John’s Ambulance and the Salvation Army, which is helping the charity to achieve its next project - the first Warming Up The Homeless shelter.
The Salvation Army hall in St Andrew’s Square, Hastings, is also the venue for Warming Up The Homeless’ new Sunday Supper Club, due to launch in June.
Speaking about Warming Up The Homeless’ volunteers, Trudy said: “Having the power to improve the lives of others is a privilege.
“This week we got someone out of a 20 year vulnerable relationship into a women’s refuge and got her the help she needed.”
“We feel like we are living in a way that abides by our humanitarian beliefs.”
She added: “Our volunteers are amazing. They give their time for nothing and outreach are out in all weathers. And I salute them.”
“It is like a family here.
“We all look out for each other and that’s how it should be.”
* Warming Up The Homeless is always looking for volunteers to help with food preparation, assisting in the distribution centre, serving in the charity shop and knitting hats and scarfs.