Focus on... Oldham Nightshelter | Depaulcharity

Focus on... Oldham Nightshelter | Depaulcharity

Depaul helps people who are homeless, vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Focus on... Oldham Nightshelter

By Oliver Wilson - 16 April 2019


It’s a rainy night in Oldham. Even finding our way from the tramstop to the Nightshelter has left me and my companion Alfonso cold and wet. Seeking directions from the neighbouring fire station, a young firefighter wished us well, clearly thinking we were people sleeping rough who were seeking shelter for the night.

Inside, Oldham Nightshelter is a welcoming space, with a cozy feel and the smell of freshly cooked curry, prepared by team member Steve Durham. Warmed up by piping hot tea, we listened to Nightshelter Manager Yvonne O’Mara tell us that they had received 70 referrals in its first 11 weeks, the longest stay being 60 days. Eleven beds are available, she said, plus an emergency bed.

Yvonne stepped up to manage the Nightshelter when Depaul decided, at short notice, to launch it in response to the need in the area, as part of Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham’s A Bed Every Night initiative. She said she is really enjoying it, despite the many challenges and long hours that the role entails.

She said: “I love it here. We have already had success in getting people off the streets and into permanent housing. I’m seeing people who have been the victims – or the perpetrators – of domestic violence. Eighty percent of the service users have substance misuse issues, which has greatly impacted on their mental health. 

“We are managing well, working with Oldham Council and the health services, referring clients for mental and physical health problems, and have one young man starting a detox programme.”

She said clients of the Nightshelter, which is open from 9pm to 9am, are given supper – broth, soups, curry or a pie – and, in the morning, a breakfast of cereal and toast. Some have been sleeping rough for years; others are new to the streets.

“Their ages range from 18 to 65,” Yvonne said. “Some of have been chucked out by their partners because of domestic violence incidents, and/or substance misuse such as heroin addiction or mental health issues.”

For referrals to the Nightshelter, Depaul works closely with First Choice Housing Association and Oldham’s Street Angels, a scheme run by a town-centre chaplaincy and backed by Oldham Council and Greater Manchester Police.

In the dormitory, it is warm and comfortable. The clients often go to bed straight after supper, and the biggest problem, says Yvonne, can be the sound of snoring.

In a quiet corner, I have a chat with one young man, who says he lost his job, and was thrown out of his accommodation by his brother because he couldn’t pay his rent. What has happened to him seems absurdly unkind, but he is optimistic he will soon find work and, with Depaul’s help, his own lodgings.

Steve, the Nightshelter’s regular night worker, said: “A lot of it is about working with the guys. A lot of them feel they are stuck and that they have ruined their lives. I try to get them to focus on a positive thing, rather than thinking about everything that’s gone wrong. We talk while playing dominoes – they can be the best conversations.” 

The Nightshelter, which opened its doors on 12 November and is due to close at the end of April, has been a sanctuary for rough sleepers in Oldham.

Before we leave, Yvonne reflects on how much she has enjoyed working with the men who have stayed in the Nightshelter: “All we can show them is kindness and respect.”

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