About the Organization
On Wednesday morning, my first meeting regarding my internship with St. Martin’s Housing Trust was a success. Supposedly located at 35 Bishopgate (near the Adam and Eve Pub, the primary schools, and the hospital), I took the 25 bus into the city center and decided to walk the rest of the way. In fact, the website of the organization misled me to its office complex, located a few blocks away from where I was meant to be. Thus, after being directed elsewhere, I made my way to Bishopbridge House at 45 William Kett Close on Gas Hill. (The Bishopbridge Housing leaflet may be found here.)
Anna Hassan, my contact for this assignment, greeted me and showed me to her office to tell me a bit about the association and discuss my plans for working with her staff. In the progression from sleeping on the streets to having permanent housing, Bishopbridge House is the opening landmark. That is to say, Bishopbridge is the first accommodation of many in the arduous process of escaping homelessness. It specializes in providing aid for people with drug problems, alcohol problems, or mental illness. Because of this (and because Bishopbridge precedes any other accommodations a person might receive), this particular group has a responsibility to link patrons with organizations dealing with addiction or other disabilities to make them more “marketable” to other groups. By introducing clients to sobriety, independence, and a sense of responsibility, these people become more likely to receive other types of aid just by beginning their journey at Bishopbridge.
The first step involves actually finding these people and letting them know that accommodations such as Bishopbridge exist. The organization has a routine series of stops to check for “rough sleepers,” and the town council also alerts them to potential people in need of help and shelter. Each morning and evening, a team embarks into Norwich to extend a hand to the homeless they find along the way (which, according to Anna’s recounts, didn’t often seem to be a particularly high number-perhaps three or four people in a session, some of which may decline access to the shelter). The winter months provide a particular challenge, though. Legislation dictates that if the weather drops below zero degrees Celsius for three nights in a row, the shelter is required to house all those desirous of lodging regardless of available space. If this occurs, Bishopbridge becomes overcrowded and understaffed, but it does keep the homeless safe from the elements for a short period of time.
To expand, issues of space do affect Bishopbridge regularly. The shelter has a very high turnover rate, meaning that the staff accepts clients, assesses their individual needs, provides an appropriate starting point to receive help, and moves them to the next step in accommodations as soon as possible. This allows the shelter to serve as many people as possible simply by getting them off the streets as quickly as possible. A free bed is a total rarity at Bishopbridge, thus proving that all space is usable and lodging is in high demand. While the teams that actually trek the streets (the CAPS) encourage Bishopbridge to take more and more clients, the staff is forced to counter this due to space, time, and resource constraints. This constant push and pull between the CAPS and the staff is one problem that Bishopbridge faces.
Staying in the house costs twenty five pounds per week (in my future research, I hope to learn where clients are expected to find this money). This charge helps cover costs of food, electricity, water, and basic maintenance of the organization itself. Regarding food, there are two halves of the building. In one, a chef cooks all meals for the clients who often speak of “moving up to the other side.” Once promoted, so to speak, they receive a bit more responsibility: the shelter returns twenty pounds of the fee for food shopping. On their first excursion, a patron and a member of staff go together to learn how to make nutritious, affordable meal choices. When their dependability is proven, clients may food shop on their own. However, they must continue to present the receipts to make sure that appropriate selections are being made each time.
At Bishopbridge, people may keep their pets. Dog training classes are available, as well as recreational lessons like computer classes (where usage of Facebook is taught to reunite clients with their families and friends) and flower pot painting.
I will be exploring each of the aforementioned facets of Bishopbridge’s mission over the course of a month. For one morning session and one night session, I will go out with CAPS to the streets of Norwich and inform the homeless of Bishopbridge, as well as encourage them to use its resources. I will also be taught how the homeless are designated to various organizations, as well as the process of moving through the system. One Monday, I will sit in on the distribution of stipends and possibly shadow a member of staff during food shopping. I hope to watch a recreational class in session, and generally see how the shelter is run while simultaneously learning about homelessness in Norwich as a general issue.
Hours Logged: 1
Total Hours: 1