Chorley Help the Homeless opens larger site to accommodate those in need including ex-Army veteran
Dad of five Darren Gaskell had a steady job and home before a relationship breakdown caused his life to spiral out of control, leaving him homeless and unable to get clean clothes for his mother's funeral.
This is just one of many stories from the people who visit the new Help the Homeless Centre in Chorley which acts as a comfort blanket for families and individuals in need of some company, warmth and a hot meal.
The Gateway opened its doors to larger premises on Saturday attended by MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle and Chorley Mayor Steve Holgate, with both men uniting to cut the ribbon.
Thanking the hard work of the volunteers, Mr Holgate also encouraged organisations to work together to get through Covid.
MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle added: "This is the beginning not the end.
"I wish we didn't have to be here today but the society we have is unjust.
"Thank you for what you do."
Located at Friday Street some of the services on offer include providing market vouchers to buy fresh food, households items including bedding, provide a social space for a hot drink and a chat.
Chair of Trustees Ken Phillips named it the Gateway as it suggests "somewhere to come for hope".
He said: "Our mission is to help people who are homeless, but also avoid them becoming homeless and in a sense that it is more important as once you are homeless it's very difficult to get back onto track again.
"While operating from our existing premises we have been limited in the services we have been able to provide due to lack of private office space and the absence of disabled access. Our new premises is all on one level and removes these limitations.
Demand for our advice/counselling service has been growing this year and with the projected continued economic downturn, we envisage that we may need to take on a second counsellor. We also hope to be able to reintroduce mental health counselling subject to finding a suitable."
The site has over 100 people a week, with October seeing 409 people come through the door and 37 in the one day - the highest yet.
Help the Homeless relies on donations from the community and on the work of volunteers which currently has around 20, but with Christmas only a month away and temperatures plummeting, more hands on deck will be needed to help.
Manager Jill Ferris says throughout Covid they couldn't have coped without volunteers who opened one day a week at their sister office, located at Dorothy House Clifford Street.
"We don't have one typical visitor. It could be someone sleeping rough or refugees. We tailor the service to the visitor and their needs."
She added: "Last Christmas there was a volume of donations for children.
"We do extra at Christmas for families with a gift for every child.
"Coming into Christmas we need more volunteers."
Susanne Ashcroft who is a volunteer for crisis intervention and housing says sometimes it's about asking the right questions.
"We have to look at everybody as a person. Everyone has issues.
"I sometimes wonder if I could have done something else."
She feels developers are placing too much focus on three bedroom houses, rather than focusing on more affordable housing.
She also feels that people get passed from pillar to post with regards housing if they are not from the area.
"Sometimes there is a really good reason why people need to be out of that area. It could be to get off drugs.
"Instead of each council having a budget and funding for residents of the local area should be a control fund that all council's can access.
"Government only give power to council's in their area.
"It's soul destroying."
"There are no homeless in Chorley" says Mark Lewis, 65, who has been homeless for over 12 years, as he feels that this is the viewpoint of most people.
Mark, who lives under a motorway bridge and narrowly escaped a fire when his tent was set alight, says he feels today's society are too quick to judge someone based on what they think they perceive.
He says he would rather stay homeless than integrate into 'city life' and it's many downfalls which he couldn't handle after coming out of the Forces.
Ex labourer Darren Gaskell, 43, who has five children, wants to get his life back on track, but feels he is not granted the same opportunity as others, having spent time in jail for robbery.
After the break down of his relationship, he turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism.
"This time I have been homeless five months, before that it was 18 months.
"I had previously got a flat in a shared building. People were doing cocaine so I left.
"Everybody has been through their own rubbish. People look down on you. They don't realise that you are going through bins for a small comfort such as a quilt to keep you warm at night.
"My mum died and I had no clean clothes for her funeral.
"I sat on the streets with no money. I didn't beg. People then stopped to give me money and I got a buzz from it.
"I want to save up to better my life but the council won't home me because I have been to jail.
"I would like to wake up in the morning and have a shower."
Interjecting, Mark added: "I'm just happy to wake up in the mornings."
From visiting the centre you get a homely feel as soon as you walk in. Volunteers see these people as human beings and extend them this courtesy. A vibe is also felt that they get to know each individual on a personal level and not just as another statistic to walk through the door.
They are homeless - they are not invisible is the direct message.
For those wishing to avail of the services, the drop-in centre will be open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 10am-2pm and Friday 10am-1pm.
If you would like to help contact the centre on 01257220077.