Homeless man able to put roof over his head with help from action group

Sally Wilshaw, who works at the Mustard Seed cafe, alongside Gary Sykes and Tim Swarbrick. Picture:

Sally Wilshaw, who works at the Mustard Seed cafe, alongside Gary Sykes and Tim Swarbrick. Picture: Sam Cooper - Credit: Archant

A former rough sleeper who has recently found accommodation after months on the street has praised the work of a homelessness action group.

Gary Sykes, 55, found himself homeless after arthritis in his knee left him unable to work.

Initially living in Scotland, he said he had to choose between his head and his heart when making the decision to move but with the threat of potentially fatal winds he was convinced to head South.

He spent almost six months on the streets of Sidmouth before finding accommodation through the help of the homelessness action group Gateway.

Gateway is a project designed to both help those homeless as well as preventing those facing it. Unpaid volunteers work with local groups such as the churches, food banks and the Mustard Seed café to provide a network of help.

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In 2017, the group helped secure accommodation for seven of the 11 homeless people with whom it worked.

Gary was given Gateway’s details when he visited Sidmouth Parish Church and after making contact, the group was able to help him get the benefits to which he was entitled, as well as providing essential provisions such as a sleeping bag.

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In the last two weeks, Gary has been able to put a roof over his head.

He said: “They approached me a couple of weeks ago and said there’s a room if you want it and I said yeah I’ll have it.

“Now I’m in comfort. Having a room, having a hot bath which people take for advantage.

“Some dogs are fed better than people on dole.

“If you break it down to roughly £10 a day, some dogs are fed better. I’m not kidding when I say that.

“I’m ever so grateful to Gateway and people in general for being so generous.”

Tim Swarbrick, 61, is a member of the board at Gateway and spoke of the challenges facing the homeless: “Try and put yourself in that position. You drop off to sleep, who’s coming round the corner? Is my stuff going to get stolen?

“What if someone sets fire to my sleeping bag? These are the things going through your head.”

One of the biggest challenges is convincing people to accept help.

“We’ve got no powers of coercion. We can only work with those that want to work with us,” said Tim

If you or someone you know is in danger of going homeless, contact Tim on 07740 067252.

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