The stories of people who find themselves without a home can be much misunderstood.
But in recent weeks The Cathedral Archer Project (CAP) in Sheffield has been releasing short films made by Homeless Stories, with funding from Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, in which those who have been helped by the service talk about their lives in their own words.
The films have detailed the experiences of Chris Lynam and Danielle (who requested her surname is not used), both of whom have been affected by homelessness, as well as the work of CAP.
The fourth and final documentary is released online today, in which the chief executive of Sheffield Cathedral-based CAP Tim Renshaw and marketing and development manager Emily Bowes talk about the welfare and emotional support provided by the project. The first film last month featured Chris’ story, in which he talks about his abusive childhood and how that led to drug and alcohol addiction and, following a time in the army, finding himself the subject of exploitation, ‘gaslighting’ – a form of psychological manipulation – and resulting homelessness.
In his testimony, Chris, 37, says: “When you’re homeless you don’t exist. You don’t, I mean people step over you, you could be fitting or having a seizure and people just assume it’s alcohol or drugs and they’ll leave you. So, you know, to go, to become invisible, I think that is probably the most difficult part, of being homeless.”
The second film focused on male suicide, with Chris reciting his poem Numbers.
The third film featured Danielle, who moved to Sheffield when she was eight, when she says she was severely bullied at school, which “had a massive effect on my self-confidence and my understanding of my own self-worth”.
At 15, Danielle ran away from home while pregnant and became homeless.
In the film, she says: “When I meet someone and they ask me about the Project, I always let them know that the Project is not just a building. It is a place to come and be seen, be respected, be heard.
“It’s its own little society for the homeless, and it’s where people are acknowledged, and they feel good about themselves, they’re not defined about being homeless, they are them.
“You see them for who they are, you understand their personalities, and it makes people feel better because they’re not the homeless guy down the street, it’s Phil from down the street, who needs a new pair of boots, who needs someone to listen to him about his war stories, and just having that place to be seen and to be heard, to be respected, makes them feel so much better, and the Project’s about that.”
Demand for the service has increased among rough sleepers during the pandemic, says Bowes.
In 2019 the service helped around 1,300 people, and last year some 850 people, primarily rough sleepers, accessed its care from April. However, rough sleepers are typically only 10 per cent of its users– among other groups such as those affected by ‘hidden homelessness’ – showing how much impact the pandemic has had.
Bowes said that services users getting to talk about their experiences in the films has been “cathartic” for them, adding that the clips have earned a positive response from those who have seen them.
The project started after the city’s industry reduced in the 1980s, leading to unemployment, poverty and poor health.
By 1989 Sheffield Cathedral had become a regular place for people who had nowhere else to go and the congregation responded by providing them with a basic breakfast, but it developed into a holistic service.
To see the videos, visit the ‘archerproject’ channel on YouTube.