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By Carina Fisher, Chief Executive at the Daylight Centre Fellowship

When I received an email out of the blue from Homeless Link’s Campaigns Manager on a Wednesday morning back in December, asking me if I had considered engaging candidates in the upcoming Wellingborough by-election, I must admit it was not something that had crossed my mind.

As Chief Executive at the Daylight Centre Fellowship in Wellingborough, we’re so busy providing support to the ever-increasing number of people who need our services, that ‘bonus’ activities, such as political influencing or campaigning, tend to fall to the bottom of the priority list.

But, since the pandemic ended, we’ve seen homelessness and rough sleeping escalate dramatically in Wellingborough, while our budgets have become more and more stretched. At the same time, the Government have done very little to address the severe lack of genuinely affordable housing.

So, on that cold December morning, I thought it was time to give our staff and people who use our services a voice for change.

Lib Dem

A client of the centre talking to the Liberal Democrat candidate Ana Savage Gunn

Using Homeless Link’s General Election Campaigning Toolkit, we wrote to the candidates of the four main parties standing for election in Wellingborough; the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Reform UK, inviting them to come and visit our services. I had been sceptical about whether we would get a reply, but all but the Conservative candidate quickly responded accepting our offer.

I thought it was really important that the candidates speak to the people who use our services, both so they understand the human stories behind homelessness statistics and to give the people who use our services a voice. But I must say I was concerned about how it might go. Some of the people we support can be pretty forthright to say the least and I wasn’t sure how the candidates might react to being put in their place.

Ben Habib

Sharing Homeless Link's Manifesto with the Reform UK candidate Ben Habib.

However, I shouldn’t have worried. All the candidates spent time talking to people we support and seemed genuinely interested and moved by their stories and resilience. From a couple who sleep most nights in a derelict caravan, to a man sleeping in his car after a relationship breakdown, the candidates saw the myriad of experiences that can lead to homelessness and destitution and how it is systems that need to change, not people, to eradicate it. To emphasise this point, I made sure to give each candidate a copy of Homeless Link’s Manifesto to End Homelessness’.

Following the election, we now have a new MP in Wellingborough who has visited our services, knows the value we bring to the local community and we hope can be a voice for the people we support in Parliament.

Labour Candidate

In conversation with the new Labour MP for Wellingborough Gen Kitchen.

Homelessness is often ignored because the people it impacts are disenfranchised. When push comes to shove, politicians favour voters they need to win over. So, to me, the main win of the experience overall was two of the people we support asking for help in registering to vote. As a homelessness service, we don’t just have a role in providing people with essentials they need to live, but we also strive to make people feel valued and heard.

That’s why, whenever the general election comes, we will be engaging candidates again and I would urge homelessness services across the country to do the same.