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Heather Mills officially opens our new women’s hostel - White Heather House

HARP are the leading Homeless Charity in South-East Essex and support over 1,000 people facing homelessness each year. On Wednesday they were joined by media personality, businesswoman, and activist, Heather Mills, for the opening of their new women’s hostel, White Heather House.

White Heather House, which has been operating for around a year, has 20 en-suite rooms for single homeless women. Around 25% of the people that HARP support are women and they can often have a very different journey to their male counterparts.

Many women who have to resort to sleeping rough report experiencing abuse of some kind and this will often lead them to utilise unsafe ways to avoid homelessness; it is this avoidance that further impacts their wellbeing as they spend time sofa surfing, or staying in abusive relationships. The average life expectancy of a woman rough sleeping is 43 years of age.

Gill Garwood, Chief Executive at HARP said “The introduction of this single gender environment will allow us to provide a less intimidating entry point to homelessness services for women and all in a supportive and understanding environment. It will improve and broaden the support available to empower women to make positive change and provide peer support for women that are also feeling lonely and isolated as a result of their circumstances.”

She continued “although it is still early days, the outcomes are already looking very promising, with 33% more women achieving a positive outcome compared to women in our mixed gender hostels in the first six months of the hostel opening.”

Heather Mills, star of Dancing with the Stars, also had a troubled childhood and went through a period of homelessness herself, so she was more than happy to take time from her busy schedule to officially open White Heather House. Heather unveiled a plaque which will be situated in the tranquil grounds of the hostel to commemorate the official opening and said “having experienced homelessness as a teenager I fully appreciate and support the value and necessity of HARP’s essential work”.

HARP have been supporting homeless people in Southend for over 15 years and not only provide emergency support such as food and housing, but also encourage all service users to access a variety of support networks,

that, collectively, help people to regain independence. Lauren Collin, HARP Women’s Hostel Coordinator said “It is our holistic approach to tackling homelessness that empowers the people we work with to overcome their personal barriers and successfully move on armed with the tools necessary to live a full and positive future.”

Homelessness is a complex issue and whilst it has been well documented that there is a shortage of affordable housing and a rise in the cost of living, these are often just the catalysts for becoming homeless. There is often a multitude of underlying issues that build up over time and without confronting these, finding and sustaining accommodation is unlikely for many. HARP’s aim is to provide the support and tools necessary to help local people overcome homelessness for good.

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