Guernsey Community Foundation launches homelessness charity

Feb 28, 2024

The Guernsey Community Foundation, with the support of Specsavers, is launching the first charity dedicated to ending homelessness in the island. 

At Home in Guernsey will support people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, including “sofa-surfers” living temporarily with other households, and adults trying to leave inadequate accommodation.

The new charity will focus on providing one-to-one support services, designed with the help of experienced homelessness charities in the UK.

It also aims to raise public awareness of local homelessness and help the States of Guernsey develop policies to tackle the problem. It will work closely with third sector organisations, statutory agencies, social housing providers and landlords.

The launch of At Home in Guernsey is the Foundation’s latest, and most significant, step in tackling homelessness, following its ground-breaking report, Homelessness in Guernsey, in 2022 and, in 2023, a six-month project run with experienced charity Homeless Network Scotland to develop a model to provide homelessness support.

The launch would not have been possible without the support of principal sponsor, Specsavers, which is making a major contribution to the operation of the charity over the next three years. The grant will enable At Home to recruit staff, find its own base of operations, and start helping people.

The Foundation is also grateful to Appleby and to Oak Group, which in helping to establish and incorporate the charity have offered their services free.

Identified need

The Foundation’s Chair, Sir Richard Collas, said: “The Foundation is always looking for ways to help the less fortunate in our community. Our report on homelessness identified the need for a charity focused on helping the many people who find themselves without secure accommodation.

“We are immensely grateful to Specsavers for their generous multi-year grant. They have been unstinting in their support since we first started talking to them about our plans late last year. It makes such a difference to be able to launch this important new charity knowing it has the backing of such a respected organisation – and one that, over the course of the last 40 years, has become a cherished part of Guernsey life.”

Specsavers has an existing commitment to improving access to care for homeless people in the UK and Ireland, having developed an optical and audiology programme working in partnership with Big Issue Group, Crisis, Vision Care for Homeless People, Simon Community in Northern Ireland and Focus Ireland in the Republic of Ireland.

“Uncomfortable truth”

Specsavers CEO John Perkins said that when Guernsey colleagues became aware of the homelessness problem locally and what was needed to help address it, it was something the company simply could not ignore.

“Homelessness in the UK is often very visible – walk through any city and sadly you will see evidence of rough sleepers. Turn your gaze to Guernsey and there are far less obvious signs. But the uncomfortable truth is that Guernsey has a significant hidden homeless problem, which as a community we need to do all we can to support.

“While it is obviously sad that such a charity is needed locally, Specsavers is very pleased to be able to help in a tangible way to make At Home in Guernsey a reality, as we know it will make a huge difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

“Alongside pledging financial support, many of our colleagues are looking forward to offering their day-to-day expertise to help the charity get set up, as well as hands-on volunteering when it is fully up and running. We have also selected the new charity as one of our annual corporate charity recipients so that, in addition to the funds already promised, our Guernsey colleagues can continue to raise money to support its ongoing running costs.

“As we celebrate our 40th year as a Guernsey business, we are honoured to be able to help this much needed charity get off the ground.”

“Catastrophic consequences”

Foundation Chief Executive Jim Roberts said: “At Home in Guernsey will help individuals and families who have lost, or who are at risk of losing, a roof over their head – something most of us take for granted. If you don’t have somewhere safe, accessible and affordable to live, the consequences can be catastrophic.”

The launch of At Home in Guernsey marks the final phase of a multi-year project for the Foundation. In 2022, we published the Homelessness in Guernsey report, funded by Maison St Pierre, which found that the island had a hidden homelessness problem.

While the lack of a statutory definition of homelessness made it difficult to measure the problem precisely, social housing waiting lists, anecdotal reports of rough sleeping, the demand for emergency housing and testimony from more than a dozen local charities all suggested that the number of ‘‘unhoused’’ people in Guernsey was and is significant.

The report’s findings were given added credence last year, when as part of their Indicators of Poverty report the States estimated that more than 1,000 men, women and children were insecurely housed in 2021 – an increase of nearly 50% since 2016.

Charity incubation

Homelessness in Guernsey recommended 12 ways in which Government and the third sector could address the island’s homelessness problem. One recommendation was to carry out more research into the need for a dedicated local homelessness charity.

With a grant from Maison St Pierre, the Foundation commissioned a report from Homeless Network Scotland (HNS), a respected charity with a reputation for grounding their work in the lived experience of people who have been homeless.

HNS worked with the Foundation for eight months. They travelled to Guernsey to meet stakeholders in the public and third sectors, drew on UK best practice, and interviewed people in Guernsey who had experienced extreme housing insecurity.

Delivering their report to the Foundation in late 2023, HNS were unequivocal: Guernsey needed a dedicated homelessness charity – either one that was started from scratch, or one that was “incubated” by the Foundation.

In response, three Foundation directors – Jim Roberts, Jane St Pier and Jo Cottell – have founded At Home in Guernsey. The Foundation’s offices at KGV will serve as the charity’s base of operations until suitable premises are found.

“The Foundation expects the incubation period to last no longer than 18 months,” said Mr Roberts. “With that in mind, At Home in Guernsey will shortly be advertising for a chief executive to take this forward at speed. And while Specsavers’ generous donation goes a long way towards meeting the charity’s running costs, especially in its first year of operation, we will be looking to raise additional funds so that we can increase the support we plan to offer.”