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"I’m going to keep it up – I have to!" - Tony's story

Matt and Tony
Matt and Tony

As we launch our joint 20th anniversary with CHESS Homeless in Chelmsford, today's story focusses on Tony, a long-time HARP client who this year celebrates his fifth year of living independently.

Tony first came to HARP after the breakdown of his relationship left him at rock bottom.

"I was on my knees. I came out of a bad relationship and found myself on a park bench with a bottle of vodka under my arm. I found HARP, or they found me, and it took a little while, but they sorted me out."

Tony’s first interactions with HARP were back when the charity only operated a Day Centre in a church in Valkyrie Road, and a separate Night Shelter in York Road.

"You’ve got to credit the staff and volunteers from back then – they didn’t really have much but they did so well with what they had!"

Tony has seen many changes over the years, as HARP grew from its modest beginnings to the full end-to-end homelessness service it is today, housing over 230 people every night of the year.

"If you were staying at the old night shelter, they’d kick you out at 8.30 in the morning if it was rain, sleet or snow, because they didn’t have the staff in the daytime! You weren’t allowed back in until 5pm, and that was only if you were cooking for everyone else! If you weren’t cooking, it was 5.30! Now, all the rooms have a colour TV and the food is great. It really has improved for people."

Tony remembers many staff fondly from his time with HARP, but has special words to say about Matthew Pettitt, who is now HARP’s Service Manager for HARP’s Low to Medium Needs Supported Accommodation.

"Matty is a diamond, he really is. He’s fair, and he gave me a lot of chances to sort my stuff out. He’s helped me with everything - life, money, even help with making sure I get my benefits."

As is often the case with people who experience street homelessness, Tony has experienced ill health over the years, and suffered two heart attacks whilst living with HARP.

"When I had the second heart attack, I knew I had to start taking my medicine because I’ll be dead next time. Now I have to take lots of tablets every morning and night and they keep me ticking over. I’m doing much better, and my drinking is now under control."

With HARP’s support, Tony moved out of HARP in 2017, and has now sustained his accommodation at a local not-for-profit Supported Housing Association for just over five years. This is a fantastic achievement for Tony, and he still stays in touch with the team at HARP and occasionally asks Matt for help.

"If I get something that I can’t handle, say a letter that is awkward for me, I come and see Matt or give him a call and he helps me out - he always knows what to do when it’s beyond me. I do find it quite stressful sometimes, and I know if I go marching in and getting angry it won’t help me. So I come to the professionals and I know Matt and the team will always help me."

Most recently, Tony stopped receiving his benefits, and couldn’t work out why, so he called Matt up who contacted the Job Centre on his behalf and got it all sorted out.

"It’s definitely better to get help from HARP to do these things, otherwise you end up getting fined and into debt. It’s great that I can rely on them for support on these things."

At HARP, we know how important it is to help our clients even after they’ve left, because a few small mistakes can lead to a loss of a tenancy, and all the hard work put in to helping people overcome homelessness is at risk.

"I take it seriously, making sure I stay on top of my payments and bills. I even pay my Council Tax in advance so I know it’s done and they won’t bother me! I have to look after myself because I can’t let Matt and the guys down. I don’t want to be knocking on HARP’s door with a black bag over my shoulder, begging for a place to stay. I’m going to keep it up – I have to!"


This is part of our series Two Charities, 20 Years, 20 Stories, celebrating the joint 20th anniversaries of Essex homelessness charities - HARP in Southend and CHESS Homeless in Chelmsford. To read more, visit the Two Charities, 20 Years, 20 Stories Hub.


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