Appeal to help north London’s most deprived homeless families in bleak shelters this Mitzvah Day
Vicky Fox has worked with north London’s most vulnerable families for more than 20 years. We speak to her to find out why she is calling on readers to Give Away Your Lunch this Mitzvah Day.
For struggling families forced to make their homes in temporary shelters across the capital, living conditions can be desperately bleak.
A single parent and child can live in one room that includes cooking facilities, with minimal space and little privacy.
Large families of two parents and four children live in one room with a second to sleep, their beds lined up against each other with no space in between.
Conditions at the shelters, which keep some of the most marginalised families in the borough off the streets, can be abysmal.
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So for the 40 or so who are supported by Doorstep Homeless Families Project in Broadhurst Gardens, West Hampstead, there is a heavy reliance on its services.
The charity, founded in 1989, offers play sessions and creches, as well as adult classes such as the Step to Employment Work Club.
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Most importantly it offers time and space away from the cramped bedsits these families call home.
Director Vicky Fox, 61, who has worked at the charity for 23 years, said: “Some of these people have had to move because of dramatic situations, so they’ve lost their support systems. They’re very isolated. We build bridges.
“When I first started at Doorstep, six months was the average wait for permanent housing and two years was very long. Now five years and upwards is the norm.”
The charity runs a wide range of activities including yoga, a cooking and healthy eating club, parent support, creative workshops, access to laundry facilities and outings during the summer.
It has partnered with the American School in London to help deliver an after-school club and bring people from opposite ends of the social spectrum together.
But much of Doorstep’s work is reliant on support from others.
By collecting donations from the community, it holds weekly “bazaars” providing free clothes, toys, books, bedding, baby equipment and household goods. Children’s gifts and family food hampers are given out at Eid and Christmas.
Donations help meet the basics of life for these families, which is why food donated through the Give Away Your Lunch project, organised by Mitzvah Day and the Ham&High, is vital to Doorstep.
“We do have people asking for food, we do have people feeding their kids and going without themselves, there are kids going hungry,” Vicky said. “I had a single mum say to me ‘I got some shower gel and soap and it was brilliant’. It made a huge difference to her.”
Vicky urges people to support homeless projects on Mitzvah Day.
“This is perceived as a very affluent area,” she said. “We’ve got Hampstead and celebrities and big houses, but there are pockets of poverty and people who are very deprived. They really need help.
“People are very kind but they aren’t aware, so it’s about letting them know.”
* The Ham&High is calling on readers to sign up to visit a homeless shelter and Give Away Your Lunch for Mitzvah Day, from Friday, November 15 to Sunday, November 17. To find out more, visit www.mitzvahday.org.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org.