Speaking out

WHEN Val Hook saw the Support Worker post advertised, she thought, 'yes!' She had been working in the centre's café but wanted to do something more specific to help people.

Now she assists clients with applications for housing and other benefits, arranges crisis loans or accommodation, rings agencies to make appointments, and reads and writes letters for them if needed.

"People feel that agencies don't care," says Val. "Support work is about helping them to have confidence. So we ring to make the appointment, but the client has to go themselves."

In one case, Val found a client a flat but he then went into prison. He wanted the tenancy kept open as he had been homeless for a long time. Val was able to sort the situation out with housing benefit.

"You need to know a person's rights," she says. "They have to pay housing benefit for a prisoner for 52 weeks." She managed to keep the place open for him, which meant he didn't get caught in the cycle of re-offending.

Like Jesus and the 10 healed lepers, the response to the help offered can be varied! "Sometimes people can be a bit demanding, saying 'I want a flat now!'" Val says. "But the guy from prison waited at reception for hours to thank me."

Her qualifications? 'Only the love of Jesus' and her own life experience. For example, her own struggle with depression has helped her to relate to people with mental health problems. Val has had to learn to be persistent. "I feel believed in by people here and this has meant a lot for me," she says.

In 2005 the Coventry Jesus Centre, together with a local estate agent, launched a bond scheme as a way out of the homelessness trap. "Lots of people can't get started due to money problems and their lack of address," explains Val.

To qualify, the client needs to be on housing benefit, and to be someone who would benefit from the scheme. They have to pay £130-150 rent in advance. The £50 bond is the Jesus Centre's responsibility, £30 the client must find themselves. In the first year the scheme helped 60 homeless people into housing.

Val is very much inspired by the song 'I will speak out for those who have no voices'. "The world's such a mess and sometimes you think 'what can I do?'" she reflects. "This centre is a little part of the kingdom of God and this is what I can do… a lovely thing."

Published 21st January 2006 with tags: employment volunteering

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