Former residents of an Exeter project which provides accommodation and support for people at risk of homelessness or rough sleeping, say they fear lives could be at risk if it closes under proposed council cuts.

Gabriel House has played a central role in preventing homelessness and rough sleeping in Exeter for more than 10 years.

Employing 11 staff, 42 residents are supported 24/7 to address health problems, develop life skills and work with other services to build support networks, before moving into sustainable accommodation.

In the last year alone, 98 people have been housed at Gabriel House and provided with specialist support to develop independent living skills before moving on into independent accommodation.

Devon County Council is considering removing its contribution to the ‘Homelessness 18+ Prevention Fund’ from 30 September. This essential funding supports a number of organisations engaged in homelessness prevention, including Gabriel House.

Former residents Dan Martins and Rebecca Harrison fear lives may be at risk if Gabriel House closes its doors
Former residents Dan Martins and Rebecca Harrison fear lives may be at risk if Gabriel House closes its doors

Charitable housing trust BCHA, which operates Gabriel House on behalf of Devon County Council, has recorded a series of talk shows with former Gabriel House residents, in which they share its profound effect on their lives.

Rebecca Harrison says Gabriel House became her family when she found herself homeless.

“I had nothing. But now I have a support network and friends, which has helped me to become independent and improve my confidence.

“The team at Gabriel House helped me to obtain therapeutic support and provided training, opening up opportunities for the future. I now have a Level 2 certificate in Food Hygiene and I’m studying a Level 3 course in Management and Peer Mentoring.

“I have my own place and have become a volunteer at Gabriel House, which means I can support other people. Eventually I would like to work as a Housing Support Worker for BCHA. Gabriel House changed my life.”

Former resident Dan Martins agreed: “I came to Gabriel House after leaving prison. It stopped me going on the streets.”

Dan also went on to help create a café there for other isolated people.

“Gabriel House has helped us feel normal, part of the community,” he continued.

“I think there will be a rise in crime if these services close because people on the streets are vulnerable and do what they have to do to survive.”

Nathan O’Conner came to Gabriel House from being on the streets and was a resident for four months before moving into his own accommodation.

He said: “I lost my job as a chef and the accommodation that went with it. I was homeless and suicidal. But Gabriel House helped me with my mental health and my finances. The staff are there when you have down days and know how to help you get back on top of things.

“I don’t think I would be here without Gabriel House. There are a lot of people on the streets of Exeter and there are going to be a lot more if this funding is cut.”

BCHA is a leading provider of services for people experiencing homelessness across the south west.

Caroline Moylan, Chief Operating Officer at BCHA, said: “Unless alternative funding can be identified to support Gabriel House, its removal will result in the loss of much needed supported housing provision.

“This would place more than 40 people who have complex support needs at immediate risk of homelessness, with far-reaching and long-lasting consequences for homelessness and rough sleeping in Exeter.

“We appeal to Devon County Council to retain this vital funding lifeline, so the service can continue to support people who have experienced trauma as they rebuild their lives.”

BCHA is working closely with stakeholders, commissioners and partners to try and identify a viable solution that will enable Gabriel House and other essential homelessness prevention services to remain open.

Devon County Council held a public consultation on its plans. This closed on April 19. They are currently reviewing responses and an announcement is believed to be scheduled for July.

To listen to our Gabriel House residents share their story, please click play below:

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