“People have this perception of the homeless being people living on the streets, you could be homeless and couch surfing at friends”
Says Dominic Lipscombe, founder of Help Finder, a non-profit organisation supporting Liverpool’s most vulnerable homeless community.
A Freedom of Information request made by Spotlight (a policy supplement for the New Statesman) revealed that as of August 2020, 2,287 people were registered homeless in Liverpool, many of which were ‘sofa surfing’ at family or friends.
Liverpool is home to a whole host of organisations and volunteer groups and Help Finder and its team is out on the streets weekly making contact with people, encouraging them to use their services and knocking down the barrier to give them the support they need that could possibly turn their lives around.
Offering a range of services such as providing food, clothing and other basic essential items, Help Finder has been a beacon of hope since being created back in 2019 in Liverpool. It supports the most vulnerable in society through its Sunday Service outreach initiative.
Dominic explained: “The circumstances vary of the people using our services, some who have been on very good wages, but they’ve then had relationship breakdowns, lost their house and job to then living on the streets. It is something people need more education on, the extent of how people have got to this point.”
The pandemic has played a major factor in the increase of vulnerable people of the city needing more support than ever. He continued: “Since the pandemic has hit, we have noticed people from all different types of backgrounds, backgrounds you wouldn’t even expect.
“There was a time at one of the Sunday sessions one of my friends I have known for years turned up to use our services, it proper hit home.”
Sunday Service is where those in need across the city can go to receive food, clothes and other essential items donated by members of the public, and through this initiative, Help Finder have supported hundreds of people across the city, each with their own unique story and circumstances.
Originally called Food Bank Finder, a web app which allowed users to find their nearest food bank, the organisation has developed throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and now works alongside local and national organisations as a lifeline for members of the local community.
Entirely run by volunteers, Sunday Service relies on the generosity of the local community to continue to provide for those in need across the city. Covid-19 has had a huge impact on Help Finder’s operations, with the number of active volunteers increasing from eight to 40 people between December 2020 and February 2021.
Libby Randles, one of Help Finder’s volunteers tells of the positive impact of volunteering: “It’s one of my favourite parts, because you see them every Sunday and you kind of get a bit of a relationship with them,” she says. “There are regulars that come, and I think it most probably feels good to them too. Seeing the same people every week it’s nice to catch up.
“It’s very rewarding, it’s things that are just so simple to you like soup or hot food, can make somebody’s day. It’s also nice to see all the service users getting on, some will stay for a couple of hours until we have left.”
*Michael who uses Help Finder’s services said: “It’s amazing you know. I’ve only been a few times but it’s amazing. The volunteers really care about you, one lady remembered that I like to recycle cups, I told her last time I came, and she recognised me today.”
Telling of how the volunteers make a difference, *Michael continued: “God yeah, I end up staying here for hours just talking, talking, talking, they are full of banter and really are interested in you and your life. It only takes me five minutes to get some sandwiches and a drink, but I love to stay and talk.”
Speaking of the positive impact the Help Finder team bring, *Michael said: “Yeah, more than you’d know. It breaks the days up, nice to have a hot drink and a chat. You feel cared for, and you know, these volunteers, I wouldn’t let anyone say a bad word about them. They don’t need to do this, but they do.
“It’s just something to look forward to, I don’t think people realise it’s not just about being fed and watered, it’s mental too. You know, having someone to have a laugh with is well important and that’s the main reason I come down.”
*David, who also uses the team’s services said: “I prefer these sorts of things, people on the street giving. I don’t like it when people give out to individuals.”
Contributing from a mental health perspective *David continued: “It gives you an aim, a direction for that day. It’s something to do, something to look forward to, rather than feeling aimless and having nothing. So, it’s very, very important to me.”
Age ranges for Help Finder volunteers vary from as young as six years old one of the volunteer’s sons, to 18-50 years of age.
Dominic stresses that: “(Help Finder) wouldn’t be a thing without the volunteers support it just wouldn’t work, without them we wouldn’t be able to grow”.
To date, Help Finder has given out £15,000 worth of clothing, supported over 500 individuals, taken over 50 people to accommodation, and served 2,500 cups of coffee – all through their Sunday Service initiative – but they are still in need of more donations and volunteers to carry on with their work.
If people would like to donate, they can contact the Help Finder page via social media. Money donations and interests in becoming a volunteer can be made via website www.helpfinder.org.uk
The Help Finder Sunday service takes place every Sunday at the top of Church Street (outside Lloyd’s Bank) from 5.00pm.
*Name changes at interviewees’ request.
Images – Help Finder