Befrienders needed to help those at risk of homelessness

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A CHARITY today launched a search for volunteers to help throw a lifeline to people on the brink of being made homeless.

Edinburgh Cyrenians say their befriender service offers vital support to individuals at a difficult point in their lives.

But there is a shortage of volunteers willing to commit to four hours a week to helping them beat the isolation and loneliness that often goes with fear of losing their home.

The "Be A Friend" campaign aims to spread the word and recruit more befrienders.

Su Moir, co-ordinator of the Cyrenians' befriender service, said there were currently just five volunteers working on the scheme and two in training, when she could do with 20.

She said: "Preventing people from becoming homeless is much better than waiting for it to happen and then trying to manage a crisis.

"We can help people sort out debt, arrears, or other would-be triggers that might cause homelessness - but what we cannot do is get people friends.

"Befrienders meet up with someone to help them develop their social circle, which could be about going to a class or group with somebody - anything really as long as it's legal, ethical and will help them get back on track socially."

The Cyrenians offer befrienders as part of their wider Homelessness Prevention Service, commissioned by the city council to work with people without a history of homelessness to prevent them from becoming homeless in the future.

Ms Moir said there were eight people currently on a waiting list for a befriender.

Befrienders are "matched" with someone who has similar interests. They meet up, usually once a week, and spend time doing something outwith the customers' homes. Full training and support is given.

David Scott, 29, became a befriender after being made redundant in December 2009.

He said: "Losing my job gave me an insight into how easily someone can go from top to bottom.

"Being a befriender has taught me I can make a difference, no matter how small, and I'd urge people to try it and see how rewarding it can be."

Gary Young, 41, also decided to become a befriender. "When I was 18 I had a very short period of homelessness myself. I wasn't sleeping rough, but I was without a home and there is a terrible feeling of isolation. If I'd had someone to fight my corner it would have made a huge difference."

&#149 A special one-off "Be-A-Friend" no-obligation open night will be held on February 24 from 6pm, at the Cyrenians' office at Norton Park, 57 Albion Road, Edinburgh, where would-be befrienders can hear first-hand what befriending is like and ask questions about the service.

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'It's given me back my confidence'

Jacqueline Henderson believes she would have ended up homeless if it had not been for the support of the Cyrenians and her befriender.

The 27-year-old catering worker was left traumatised by a serious assault and soon afterwards was badly injured in a fall. She had to give up her job and fell into rent arrears on her flat. Her housing association issued her with a court order for eviction.

It was when she turned up at court that she met the Cyrenians, who helped sort out an agreement on payments which has allowed her to keep the flat. The charity also gave her help and support to get back on track and find another job.

She was matched with volunteer befriender Alison Dobbie, 46, and the pair meet once a week for coffee and a chat or to go to the cinema.

Jacqueline says: "It has made me look at problems head-on instead of running from them. It's helping bring back a bit of the social life I used to have and given me confidence."

Alison, who works in IT, said: "It has been positive for both of us. Jacqueline has been able to tell me about some of her concerns - it's another ear for the problems - and we've enjoyed each other's company."