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Love Kingston. Profile: Georgie Forshaw, KCAH

“It’s rarely a happy day for someone when they come to see me,” says Georgie Forshaw, a caseworker at Kingston Churches Action on Homelessness (KCAH).  “But we offer help, and if they take it, we can change their lives. And that’s not bad.”

Weekdays from 10am to 1pm, Georgie staffs the KCAH drop-in service, helping people in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames who face a housing crisis. She works part-time and has one part-time colleague. Together they have 370 clients on their books, around 100 of whom are active and visit weekly.

Typically, two-thirds of people using the drop-in service are homeless on the day they come for help. The rest fear losing their home – often just a friend’s sofa – in the next few weeks, or are long-term rough sleepers.

They tend to be the younger and more vulnerable members of Kingston’s homeless population, often aged 17 to 30. Some haven’t had a proper home for years. “But we get a real cross-section,” says Georgie. “I saw one guy recently who lost everything – job, home, family – in just one week. It was a real shock for him.”

On the whole, people come to Georgie expecting to be housed. But that’s not always realistic. The local council will look after those under 18, but there’s little on offer for anyone else. KCAH can access local hostel and shelter beds, but they are hard to come by. Entrenched rough sleepers often have drug or alcohol problems they need to address first.

But an action plan can be the first step on the road to a proper home. “We manage people’s expectations and give them straightforward advice. A lot of people won’t take advice, but if they keep coming back you can build a relationship. Even if it takes months.”

Some of Georgie’s clients are not the easiest people to help. She’s had people sectioned in her office, taking drugs, getting removed by police. “But I’ve never felt under threat. It’s life. People’s chaos. It’s just the way it is. The stress does get on top of you, but the rewards are awesome. And when you do get some success, it keeps you going.”

Georgie shares the story of one young client: “Her dad was a heroin addict. He left home when she was two. At thirteen, she went into care. She was bounced around from place to place and started using drugs. When she first came to the drop-in service, she was on the streets, selling herself. She was high and paranoid. But for some reason she trusted me.

“She’d come to the centre every day and then I’d not see her for ages. It was very random. Then she settled into a pattern, visiting twice a week. We built a nice routine. Now she’s in temporary accommodation with the council. She’s been clean for ten weeks and is doing brilliantly. She’s even talking about going to college. When she stops coming to see me, it will be sad – but lovely.”

In the car park in front of the drop-in centre, there’s a beaten up mattress on the floor. A young man has been sleeping here for the last few weeks. “I look at him and I know he cocks things up time and time again,” says Georgie. “But he does come back; there is someone inside him who wants to change. One day it will be his time.”

And when that day comes, Georgie and her colleagues will be there to help.

Georgie Forshaw is a caseworker at the Housing Crisis Intervention Service provided by Kingston Churches Action on Homelessness. Her post is funded by The London Community Foundation’s Love Kingston campaign.

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