Lifeline for those who live on the margins

Volunteers helping to serve food to the needy Mike Phyall, Marina Stafford, David Le Poidevim, Fiona Buck and cook Eileen Phyall Picture: Tom Cotterill
Volunteers helping to serve food to the needy Mike Phyall, Marina Stafford, David Le Poidevim, Fiona Buck and cook Eileen Phyall Picture: Tom Cotterill
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Winter’s chill can be bitter and harsh – especially for those without a warm home.

It’s a time feared by homeless people who are forced to brave the cold and dismal weather.

Simon, Neil and Stephanie, who all visit the LifeHouse in Portsmouth Picture: Tom Cotterill

Simon, Neil and Stephanie, who all visit the LifeHouse in Portsmouth Picture: Tom Cotterill

Many feel ignored and isolated, wrapped up in sleeping bags and baggy clothing, while Christmas shoppers pass them in the street.

But there is a place that welcomes Portsmouth’s homeless residents with open arms – and hot food.

The LifeHouse in Albert Road, Southsea, is one of several charities doing its bit to support the city’s needy.

Dozens of volunteers help to run a soup kitchen and barbershop, giving people everything from free roast dinners to burgers, hot dogs and cakes. The group also helps to support people to overcome addiction.

Daniel Vine, 33, is one of those who has had his life turned around with the help and support of the LifeHouse team.

He says: ‘The team have been absolutely incredible. They welcome us all with a smile and they treat us like human beings – they treat us with dignity.’

Daniel now lives in Albert Road. But he spent years living on the street after being kicked out of his family home aged 16.

‘Having a safe place to rest their head for the night is the most important thing to a homeless person,’ he says.

‘You hear so many stories of people being beaten and set on fire. It is just so dangerous.

‘You’re constantly sleeping with one eye open because you’re scared someone is going to kick your head in.’

He says homelessness in Portsmouth was ‘widespread’, although recent figures from Portsmouth City Council showed there were only 15 people living rough on the city’s streets.

However, there are more than 400 households which are accepted as homeless.

Daniel says that many of those forced to live on the street feel hopeless and turn to drink or drugs to give them some form of comfort.

‘You need to have something to get up to in the morning, like a job – a purpose, a reason to keep living,’ he explains.

‘When you have absolutely nothing and you’re destitute you end up turning to drugs, or alcohol or gambling which ultimately makes things worse. It’s a vicious circle.’

Dozens of homeless and needy people visit the LifeHouse each week for support.

The site was recently presented with a cheque for £10,000 which has helped volunteers’ ambitions to expand the service.

Lesley Wenden is one of those volunteers.

She says: ‘We’re desperate to do more to help people.

‘There is a real need in the city and by simply giving people some warm food and a safe place to talk, you can see a huge turnaround in them.’

Patrick Doherty, 41, lives in Portsmouth and struggles to make ends meet.

He came to the city after spending almost two years living rough on the streets of London. During this time he became an alcoholic.

‘Everything got on top of me and my marriage fell apart,’ he recounts while tucking into a corned beef sandwich.

‘It was a dark time. But since coming to Portsmouth things have been better.

‘This place treats you like a normal human being.

‘People come in here for a number of reasons. But the main thing is to get away from what’s out there.

‘Out there I felt like I had surrendered to addiction. So having places like this helps.

‘It’s a lifeline. They could die otherwise.’

Retired Eileen Phyall volunteers at the site with her husband Mike.

She is in charge of cooking meals for the needy and says it’s one of the most rewarding jobs she has ever tackled.

‘I have been here for two years,’ adds the former youth offender worker. ‘It’s been challenging but I enjoy it.

‘You just get so much more back from it.’

She says that over the site still needs funding and support from the public to help improve its services.

‘Our ovens are diabolical and our fridge uses so much electricity because it is old.’

Lesley adds she has ambitions of one day seeing the LifeHouse move to a bigger home and has applied to Portsmouth City Council in a bid to make that dream a reality. She adds she also wants to see the service expand its support to include cooked breakfasts for needy people on Saturday mornings and mental health support programmes.

The LifeHouse is at 153 Albert Road. Every Thursday evening, from 7pm to 8.30pm, it runs its ‘double portion’ soup kitchen. On Wednesday there’s a drop-in centre from 9am to midday.

The site offers food parcels, clothing, toiletries and other provisions from items which have been donated. For details lifehouse.org.uk, call 07713 198045 or email office@lifehouse.org.uk