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Hornsey Road charity offers rough sleepers storage

Organisation launches new free service to keep homeless people’s possessions in a safe place

03 May, 2019 — By Calum Fraser

Rachel Woolf: ‘It’s not an issue that is very sexy and grabs headlines’

WITH gang initiations that involve urinating on homeless people or setting fire to their belongings, a safe place to store their most prized possessions is a primary concern, a charity worker said.

Rachel Woolf launched the Street Storage organisation last week in a bid to give about 20 people sleeping rough a safe place to keep important possessions such as passports and immigration documents.

The Essex Road resident said that hers is the only organisation that provides this service free of charge and that it is mostly overlooked by the public and larger charities.

“You have to either keep it in your hands or put it at the bottom of a bag and sleep on the bag.

“If we can alleviate this concern, then that has to be positive.”

Her storage space in Hornsey Road could fit about two or three people to sleep in. So would it not be better to get three people off the street than have a load of items in storage?

“I get that question a lot,” she said. “What people don’t realise is that the amount of stuff that rough sleepers carry usually marks them out.

“Most homeless people don’t look like your stereotypical rough sleeper. I’ve met so many who look clean and presentable but then they have a trolley full of items. They’re immediately treated differently by the public as a result.

“Imagine how many items you would have if you had just been evicted from your home and sent out onto the streets.

“If they then go into a library or a café without all their belongings, they can be treated like anyone else again.”

Ms Woolf has been working in the homeless charity sector for seven years and has links with charities across the borough.

She raised about £7,000 to open Street Storage with the space provided to her rent-free.

She is the only person running the unit and is on call seven days a week.

The idea first came to her when she was working in a day centre and the storage space they had there was at full capacity and open only for about six hours a week.

“People have lives before they became homeless,” she said. “Maybe in other countries or this one. We can serve 20 separate rough sleepers at any one go,” she said. “We deal with people on the street who are not willing to go into shelters.

“There are people who don’t want to speak to an outreach team, who don’t want to go into rehabili- tation centres. A lot of them are not mentally ready to accept help, maybe they don’t trust the authorities or the charities.

“But I have had these people come in here and drop off their stuff, because they need this. I don’t require anything from them.

“They need to sign a bunch of forms, other than that they can leave their stuff and they will never have to see me again for a year or two.

“It’s a low-key, free service. It’s not conditional. Yet, if they want more help I can put them in contact with housing, education and rehabilitation services.”

Ms Woolf is looking to expand her storage space which is filling up quickly. However, rent- free and secure spaces in London are not easy to come by.

“I like it when people ask why storage is important,” she said. “Because there are so many reasons. It’s not an issue that is very sexy and grabs headlines. And this is probably the least glamorous and sexy organisation out there.

“But it has also been forgotten, not by rough sleepers, but by a lot of people in these big dog charities or government bodies, who have a load of money but don’t spend it on storage.

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