When a friend suggested Joanne Claire apply her skills to help others find accommodation she jumped at the chance. And she's never looked back.
I’ve worked in housing all my life and when a friend suggested I volunteer at Renfrew Housing Support to assist vulnerable people in finding accommodation I thought it made sense to lend my skills.
The project is church-based and works with the council and housing associations to source accommodation for people who find themselves either homeless or at risk of being made so.
Usually I commit two nights a week to the project during which I could be doing anything from advising people of their rights to helping entire families find temporary accommodation.
It can be both heartening and depressing in equal measure though overall I find it very rewarding.
It’s not just about giving people a roof; it’s about giving people a home...there’s a big differenceJoanne Claire
We live in a wealthy country yet we don’t take care enough for our most vulnerable citizens. Even older people – those who have served their years serving others – can find themselves destitute. It just makes me wonder why we allow that to happen.
On the other side of the coin when you can help someone and see how much it means to them you realise life can have a silver lining after all.
I also work to help people integrate into communities. Those who are recovering addicts or alcoholics can’t easily adjust to everyday life. It often takes years so a big part of my time is spent supporting people to stay in their accommodation, preventing them going back to their old ways.
The United Nations says it’s an inalienable right for everyone to have a roof over their head. That’s understood but many people spend their lives in temporary accommodation, moving from one place to the next. Some move several times each year.
If I wanted to change anything that would be my first priority. People should be guaranteed some level of secure accommodation that is both clean and safe. It’s not just about giving people a roof; it’s about giving people a home. There’s a big difference.
I also find it shocking how much support is needed outwith the statutory services. Housing is of course the responsibility of local authorities but if it was not for voluntary projects and charities like the one I volunteer for then they’d be overwhelmed.
As a housing officer myself I spend a good part of my job signposting people to other services run by the third sector because the statutory services just can’t cope. I’m glad they are there but there is something fundamentally wrong with the system when we need so much external help just to provide what is essentially a very basic need.