Peter Wallace, Dover Outreach Centre

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Examples of how lay volunteers from across the town’s churches with other volunteers work to improve the circumstances of the town’s homeless and people with a range of social problems was outlined to members of Dover’s Rotary club by Peter Wallace, Vice Chairman of the Trustees of the Dover Outreach Centre, at the most recent meeting of the club.

Mr Wallace, a senior planning officer with Dover District Council, talked of the various facilities organised and run by the laity of the town’s churches including the Dover Soup Kitchen which provides daily year round food for the homeless, the Dover Food Bank located at The Ark and at the Beacon Church providing emergency supplies to those on low or no incomes and the Street Pastors Scheme which, since 2012 originally on Saturday nights but now also including Friday nights, organises teams of volunteers to walk the streets to help anyone in need of assistance. Following the tragic death of two homeless men on the streets of Dover who had been under the eye of the Street Pastors volunteers sought ways of trying to ensure that no-one else in the C21 died in such circumstances in Dover.

But what to do?

Two objectives were identified firstly the need to try and remove the homeless from the streets permanently and, secondly, the need to provide a refuge for shelter in the winter months. So, originated the Outreach Centre based in a building to the rear of St Paul’s Catholic Church which came available for the purpose in the summer of 2016. Volunteers transformed the building in quick time to provide a hall, kitchen, showers, a laundry room, an interview room and an office and the winter shelter project was up and running by September of 2016. Five churches and a community organisation in turn manned the shelter between December and the end of February so that 60 plus volunteers through this winter period provided a meal from 6pm and stayed through the night to provide breakfast to some 36 people who used the shelter because they were homeless. The Outreach volunteers wanted to go beyond just providing bed and food and so from Mondays to Fridays between 9-11, following breakfast, advice, help, counselling services were made available and the homeless were given a postal address as well as having hairdressing facilities made available.

A doctor calls in and members from Porchlight and Turning Point are involved with the Centre’s operation. In just nine months since inception over 200 people had used the facilities on offer and now in addition to seven volunteers on duty there is a salaried Centre Manager whose tasks include dealing with people with various addictions such as alcohol or drugs, the consequences of marriage break-downs, of the challenges facing demobbed service personnel and other issues. Mr Wallace said the great thing about the Outreach Centre was the number of positive outcomes where lives have been turned round by virtue of all the services available on one site. The next stage was trying to provide employment opportunities for those coming to the centre so they can obtain skills and a CV and be enabled to move on in their lives. Six-month contracts are involved to do work such as painting and decorating and minor building works giving a regular income.

Mr Wallace indicated that everything has happened so quickly, in less than a year, but it showed the ability of volunteers to respond to people with human needs and to improve their lot. He made reference to the parable of the Good Samaritan and said volunteers do not just stop at the side of the road but take those in need to a place of safety and then move them on in positive progress. The Centre costs something in the order of £20K to run per year and the Street Pastors some £8-£9K per year. There was a direct connection he said between the work of the Street Pastors and the foundation and organisation of the Outreach Centre.