In 2020, the link between our Foundation and a Southend-based homeless shelter “Off The Streets” how grown and grown. In 2021, we hope to expand this link even further and do anything we can to help the shelter and the rough sleepers in Southend.
In this interview, the founder of ‘Off The Streets’ – Kirsty Fields – talks about the shelter (how it started, what it has achieved, what plans it has) as well as recalling the senseless tragedy that binds our two families
1. What made you start the charity, and how did it begin?
I responded to a call out on Facebook for volunteers for the emergency night shelter, this led to me cooking food and distributing it out to the harder to engage rough sleepers that didn’t want to come in to the shelters. Some rough sleepers are so used to being on the street they find the change difficult but I knew they still needed food, etc. One particular night I met a rough sleeper in the snow he was in a doorway, I offered him some food but he was so blank and didn’t really want to engage, so I left some food and a hot drink next to him and said I’ll be back tomorrow he sniggered and said “I’ve heard that before”. I proved him wrong, my word was my word and I went back for 5 days same time, same place and he starting engaging with me. I let him know I was helping at one of the winter night churches that night and to my surprise he turned up and was off the streets. I believe I built up his trust and proved him wrong , this just proves that your word means so much.
2. What were/are the specific aims of the shelter?
I knew there was a need on the last night of the winter night churches, the whole atmosphere changed I asked what now? where do the guests go now? The answer I got was “that’s it until next year”. I knew I had to do something. My aim was to offer a shelter but to work with the guests to create achievable targets that we could work together on. It’s more than a shelter it’s their home and that is the most important thing, a place for them to feel safe but also helping our guests find their purpose and believe they are good enough to achieve anything they want.
3. What are your proudest achievements so far?
My proudest moments have been seeing guests at their lowest but then getting them to their goal, seeing them settled in their own accommodation and seeing them thrive.
4. Are there any individual case stories you are particularly proud of?
One that really stands out is a guy that had tried many different shelters and support agencies but they haven’t worked out. For him it’s all about trust and once that was built the foundation for helping him progress was there, he’s been let down a lot and unfortunately people were judgemental as they judged him from previous behaviour but I explained it’s about building bridges and proving people wrong. He is now housed and to see him doing so well makes me very proud.
5. What are the shelters plans for the future?
To grow and to offer more but to keep our unique approach . I think the key is not just about focusing on the end goal but to break it down and get there step by step I have a lot of plans in motion.
6. There is a shared tragedy that links your shelter and our foundation. Would you like to explain why our foundation, and it’s aims to screen young people, is so important to you and your family?
In 2012, I lost my sister my best friend and my flat mate – Jodie – through SADS. I believe sometimes that reading other peoples stories can sometimes give you the assurance that if you are not feeling well it can be serious. She was 20 years old fit, healthy and her whole life ahead, she was the life and soul of every party. When I saw Karl’s charity board it was at an event and I stood there and thought ‘wow’, it was a moment that I won’t forget. After speaking to Karl and finding out more about the charity I knew it was something I would always support. The charity doesn’t just make a difference, it SAVES LIVES and raises awareness offering screening days where signs of health problems can be picked up. I can’t express the importance of being checked I just hope that people reading this it makes you realise the importance of charity work. Jodie and Carli I’m sure would be so proud that although it was to late for them that others can be saved