Together in Barnet (TiB) are providing a much-needed welcoming space for Londoners away from the streets. Set up with the intention that no one should have to spend a night on the streets, the charity was founded in 2003, in response to the death of a homeless man on the streets of Barnet.
Working in conjunction with 32 communities of different faiths and denominations across Barnet, TiB is a true example of a grassroots community-based charity, as recognised earlier this year with the Interfaith Relations Award. Initially known as the Night Shelter and later formalised as a registered charity in 2014, TiB works in close partnership with the day centre Homeless Action in Barnet (HAB) to provide for the needs of the most vulnerable in the Barnet community.
With recent findings showing that in 2021 more than 1,200 died while homeless in the UK, there’s no doubt that incredible charities like TiB are offering a vital life-saving service. With the help of the interfaith ‘shelter circuit’, including churches, synagogues and mosques, 17 guests per night are provided with a warm welcoming safe place to sleep, dinner and breakfast.
Widespread stigma renders those experiencing homelessness to extreme social isolation and loneliness. Indeed, an understanding of homelessness is integral to combating the nexus of stigma, isolation, and vulnerability the community faces. Amanda Weiss, Operations Manager, debunks these misconceptions associated with those experiencing homelessness “More times than I can count, a volunteer will turn up for a shift. And they’d walk through the doors and ask ‘who here is a volunteer and who here is a guest?’ It completely just wipes away any misconceptions. You know, people have this idea when they think of a homeless person – it’s usually a man, aged 40 or 50 years old with a big, long beard, quite dishevelled and doesn’t take care of themselves. And I think when you come to the shelter, you realise that any person you’ve just passed on the street could have no place to live. I think also, it’s never usually one thing that leads somebody to come in, you know, finding themselves homeless or becoming a guest in our shelter, it’s usually a kind of coming together of lots of events, which, unfortunately, have led them to that point. Any one of us that would find themselves in that position.”
Mischa Spiegel, Project Officer adds, “I think a huge misconception is that people who are experiencing homelessness are often drug addicts, or have other dependencies when that’s often not the case. People become homeless for so many different reasons. It could be a breakdown of a marriage, a breakdown of a relationship, it could be loss of a job, COVID-19, there are so many different reasons. And if people just stopped to take time to talk to people who are experiencing homelessness, you’ll see their humanity and the fact that you can’t just generalise people who are experiencing homelessness and put them into one box.”
March 2020 saw the core functioning of the charity affected as the government forced the night shelter to close due to the pandemic. Fortunately, TiB was able to reopen with an initiative known as The Hotel Project providing guests with individual COVID-safe rooms supporting up to 16 guests with shelter, basic living supplies, and breakfast and dinner in a hotel for the first half of 2021. Thanks to the success of the initial stage, TiB has opened a second hotel project in October 2021, running until March 2022 supporting over 50 people with COVID-safe emergency accommodation. The pandemic lockdowns also saw TiB and their partner charity Homeless Action in Barnet go above and beyond as they were able to provide regular care packages for over 180 people who were vulnerably housed across seven London boroughs.
More recently, TiB and HAB have challenged the community to swap their comfortable bed for sleeping bags! Now in its third year, the Big Barnet Sleep Out raises funds for the charity whilst spreading awareness about the ever-increasing needs of those experiencing homelessness. Given the impact of COVID-19, people were now able to take part at home, outside of their main event space, one of TiB’s local faith venues in Barnet. Amanda welcomes how this adaptability has enabled TiB to reach a wider audience. “It actually means it’s more inclusive. More people can take part, be it kids, families, you know, whoever else who wouldn’t necessarily be able to come to the main site and sleep out. We’re all proud of how we’ve adapted to COVID and the pandemic completely, not just redesigning the shelter, but our entire ways of working. And, you know, obviously, we had to close at the beginning of the first lockdown, but we managed to reopen in a local hotel, and we’ve been able to keep working on our vision and achieving our goal even during the pandemic, which is really down to all of the incredible communities we have, and the community we have and all their hard work.”
Mischa notes that the work at TiB really does have a long-term impact and it’s much more than just breaking that stint of homelessness. “If you were ever involved in one of our team meetings and you could feel the excitement that we experience when someone has a move on plan. We are so excited when they move out of our shelter and move into accommodation whether it be shared accommodation or independent living. We’re so happy that someone got a route out of homelessness, it’s really a great experience when someone is able to get off the street.”
In terms of upcoming initiatives, the charity is planning to launch The Together Project aimed at bringing together members of the community with people who have experienced homelessness or are currently experiencing homelessness. The goal is to provide individually tailored support with the aim of creating networks, community, and social contact. Those involved will have access to a mentor or simply a friendly face, in order to reduce loneliness and help people to achieve their goals.
Mischa says that “It could just be like a chat on a weekly basis just to check in and have a friendly face. Some people might, for example, want support going to a medical appointment to be there as moral support, or they could want to work on tangible goals such as educational or work opportunities – be it, cooking classes or how to take care of children or it could be anything. Our goal is really to reduce isolation and loneliness in people who are or have experienced homelessness. Support them with networks in the local community and really kind of support them to be involved, in everyday life.“ Mischa adds, “Our current, past and future goal is to attempt to make sure that not one person spends a night on the streets of Barnet, and that will be our ongoing mission.”