Coat exchange launches in Chelmsford to keep the homeless warm

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HOMELESS people are getting a helping hand to keep warm as the temperatures plummet with the launch of Chelmsford’s first coat exchange.

Bonnie Roberts, 23, a project coordinator for Essex County Council’s Independent Living scheme, was inspired by an identical project outside Colchester library which made headlines worldwide last month after going viral on social media.

Bonnie, who found herself temporarily homeless at the age of 19, said: “The coat exchange started after a friend of mine at the council showed me a story about the Colchester library coat rail, knowing that I’m always looking for simple ways to support the homeless.

“So I spoke with the library staff and they agreed to have the coat rail in the library. We’ve had about 80 coats donated already, plus another 50 items like fleeces, jumpers, scarves, gloves and hats.”

The scheme is simple – people are invited to donate unwanted coats and jackets by simply hanging them up, while those in need are welcome to help themselves. They don’t even have to let anyone know they have removed an item.

“Homelessness is an issue that many of us are lucky enough to get through life without experiencing, however some of us aren’t so lucky,” added Bonnie, whose facebook post about the project was shared almost 400 times.

“I suffered a housing crisis myself in my teens and was astonished by the lack of support available. Considering I was a single 19-year-old girl who was sofa surfing, I couldn’t help but think that society didn’t really care.

“I realise that by just showing you care and by doing small things to make a difference you can stop people reaching desperation and crisis.

“The rail gives anyone who is struggling an opportunity to stay warm and comfortable – a basic human need. Whether you are homeless or struggling financially, the generous donations from those who work around Essex County Council will help to benefit people in the community.”

In December, Essex County Council secured an £890,000 funding boost for a Government project to tackle homelessness nationwide.

Essex was one of just 28 local authorities nationwide chosen to become one of the Government’s network of homeless prevention ‘trailblazers’.

The cash will fund 10 specialist mentors to identify at risk households and individuals in Essex and intervene before they are threatened with eviction.

Although direct responsibility for homelessness falls to district councils, Essex County Council decided to bid for the money to ensure that a countywide approach was taken to homelessness, with a view to helping those most in need.

Cllr Anne Brown, Essex County Council Cabinet Member for Corporate and Communities, said: “This is a fantastic locally generated scheme, something which will make a real and immediate difference to people who are truly in need.

“By creating this coat exchange, Bonnie has made many small acts of kindness come together to make a huge difference to those who truly need it. She is to be commended for her kindness and ingenuity.”

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