One of the Cambridge Labour Party’s manifesto proposals was about street drinking: a recognition of ‘the need to balance an educative and caring approach with ‘tough love’ and stronger action on the side of local residents who have to live with the problem’
To get a greater understanding of current approaches to problematic drinking I went to meet with Henry the CEO of Jimmy’s on East Road. My earlier experience of Jimmy’s was as a night shelter where you were always aware of the potential for chaotic behaviour. What greeted me came as a shock. Jimmy’s is now a 24 hour service and first impression was a scene of tranquillity, residents were sitting in a communal area that resembled a large sitting room.
Jimmy’s of old is no more – it now incorporates a preventative model as a single homeless emergency service. Their typical guest is someone who needs temporary help with accommodation and life skills. Guests are provided with workshops and group sessions to fill gaps in their experience and the expectation is that they move on to more stable accommodation within 28 days often with a support programme.
There are 20 single rooms: they are small but each has its own window and bathroom. Twenty-seven paid staff work at the centre and they are assisted by around 120 volunteers.
The project uses hostel accommodation and move-on houses around the city for residents to progress to, but this is always under pressure and Henry would like to see more accommodation for progression. Henry is also concerned that at the present time he is having to turn away up to eight people a day. “Normally they do not return, so this indicates a greater problem than people imagine”
Henry continues “People blame Jimmy’s for the local street drinkers – seen as a magnet for chaotic behaviour. Whilst in an emergency we help out entrenched drinkers, this is no longer the main need for Jimmy’s. Most people who come to Jimmy’s do not have alcohol issues – our guests are here for one reason: they have lost the roof over their head and are in need of safe, settled accommodation.”
The lounge at Jimmy’s