People in Aberdeenshire who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes are finding hope thanks to a successful Salvation Army initiative.
The Shield Project is a community-based service for people who are marginalised through homelessness or potential homelessness.
It is based in Burnside Business Centre, Peterhead, and provides a support service to people across the Aberdeenshire Council area.
The project, which is managed by Helen Elphinstone, also helps people who have been released from Peterhead Prison.
Helen works alongside Lieutenants Barry and Helen Dickson who run a weekly Salvation Army drop-in.
The drop-in has been hailed as a lifeline for vulnerable local men and women.
It runs from 1pm to 3pm on a Tuesday in Peterhead supporting around 80 people through outreach work across Aberdeenshire.
The Shield Project has been running since 2009 when the Salvation Army recognised there was an urgent need for support for people who were experiencing homelessness or were at risk of becoming homeless.
Many of these individuals were also battling with related issues such as substance misuse and poor mental health.
To meet this need, The Salvation Army established the Shield Project in partnership with Aberdeenshire Council.
The scheme provides a support service for individuals and families who are at risk of losing their homes or currently have no where to live.
Helen Elphinstone said: “Very often, the people who are supported by the Shield Project are beyond the reach of statutory services and can no longer access the benefits system.
“Struggling with addiction may have led to them being without benefits after being ‘sanctioned’ for neglecting to deal with their post and communications and subsequently missing appointments.
“Lack of access to benefits and support often escalates the problem for these already extremely vulnerable individuals and frequently leads many to criminal activity in order to obtain substances.
“The Shield Project supports people out of this downward spiral by walking alongside them on the journey back to well-being.
“The service signposts and refers to statutory services such as substance misuse services and clinics.
“It also links people with services like Here for You, CAIR Scotland and Employability.”
Shield Workers also personally get in touch with benefits services and advocate on behalf of service users.
Helen said because people trust the Salvation Army to help them without discrimination, they feel safe to discuss their problems.
So Shield workers can bridge the difficulties that people have in using services.
These difficulties, often caused by underlying issues such as poor mental health or bad experiences in the past, can cause people to act in a belligerent and angry way or appear threatening.
So having the support and advocacy of the Shield Project can make the difference between getting accommodation and/or benefits.
Having Shield support can also make a difference in the court room, for example, where the sheriff has made community orders instead of prison sentences for someone who is willing to carry on working with the project.
Helen continued: “Our mission is to meet people where they are and encourage them to get to where they want to be at a pace they set themselves.
“Some people are ready to make big changes in their lives but for others being able to stay in recovery for a week can be a massive achievement.
“We work in partnership with other agencies in Aberdeenshire to promote recovery and reduce homelessness.
“It’s about getting to the root of people’s problems, many of which are complex, and give them the support they need.”
The Shield Project, in partnership with local Salvation Army churches, works alongside the drop-in service which provides a great opportunity for people to come together to share fellowship and stories over a meal, reducing their social isolation.
The service is also attended by partner agencies so clients can receive additional support in the one setting.
Helen added: “We work Monday to Fridays with our outreach work covering Aberdeenshire, which also includes our two drop ins at Peterhead, every Tuesday from 1 to 3pm and in Fraserburgh, on Wednesdays from noon to 2pm.
“There is a great need in this area for our service and I believe there is room for further development of the Shield Project.”
Drop-in for support service
Lieutenants Helen and Barry Dickson, Corps members and volunteers at the Salvation Army, provide a hot meal and a safe, friendly, caring environment where they empower locals to make positive changes in their lives through the drop-in service.
They are currently working with people who have been referred from Peterhead, Banff, Fraserburgh, Ellon, Strichen, Aberchirder and Newmachar but they cover the whole of Aberdeenshire, where they do outreach work.
People who require support can also attend the drop-ins.
In Peterhead, people can access the drop-in at the Salvation Army community church on Windmill Street. There is also a drop-in at the Salvation Army church on Frithside Street in Fraserburgh.
Sarah (not her real name) is a regular at the drop-in and said it is a safe place that provides her and her family with practical, emotional and spiritual support.
She said: “What makes this so special is that everyone is made to feel welcome, regardless of their background.
“I’ve had a number of family problems and sometimes it’s hard to remain positive.
“With the drop-in I can get practical help such as clothes and toiletries but more importantly I feel like I have people I can talk to and who will really listen to me.”
Barry said: “The drop-in service works because it’s just like a big family. As a church we are honoured to host the service and our members all pitch in with hot food and drinks.
“We also encourage people to join in with a short prayer, singing a song or when one of our volunteers shares from the heart.
“Projects like this benefit from the generosity of the public and we are grateful to those who have supported it so far.”