This article appears in the May 2003 edition of the Catholic Medical Quarterly

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Meet The Depaul Trust

Nikki Arden

To Not Give Up

Recent headlines have urged people to stop giving money to people begging on the streets. The headlines also speak of a failing education system in some of the poorest areas of the UK, and how young people are turning to crime and the huge cost financially to society of young offenders. People need money to live. But what is being done about these issues? One Catholic-founded charity, Depaul Trust (charity no 802384), is working to improve the lives of some of these disadvantaged and marginalised people, those that many people have already given up on, or no longer know how to help.


Where did Depaul Trust start?

Their journey actually began in a small village on the French side of the Pyrenees with the birth of Vincent de Paul in the spring of 1581. The charity continues to work in the spirit of St. Vincent, one of the most famous saints worldwide. He is remembered for his tireless service to the poor and needy, but he also founded the Congregation of the Mission Priests (CM), the Ladies of Charity (known internationally as the A.I.C.), and the Daughters of Charity (DCs) who are still influential around the world today and are often seen ministering to the poor on the 'front line where a natural disaster may have struck or in back street slums of many capital cities, not necessarily in third world countries.

Steeped in Vincentian ethos, Depaul Trust takes its aims and belief from Vincent s life and today is pleased to be a member of the Vincentian Millennium Partnership. The VMP is an ecumenical partnership, which was set up in 2000, a blend of ten religious and lay organisations in Britain who work in the name of Vincent de Paul.

In practice this means that Depaul Trust is prepared to take risks, both with people that many would exclude, and with new projects. They believe in action, not just words, to offer real solutions for people in real situations. They are prepared to be innovative in thinking of new solutions for new and old problems and are accountable to their clients, staff and funders. The Trust also actively embraces volunteering opportunities and the valuable perspective those volunteers bring to their work.


Depaul Trust's History

Depaul Trust was a three-way research partnership between Passage Day Centre, the Daughters of Charity and St. Vincent de Paul Society: each of these founding organisations having an established history of helping the poor and needy. The Daughters have many years experience of dealing with the homeless problem, and it was their day to day encounters that highlighted the dramatic rise in young people at risk on the streets of London. This eventually led them to research both the causes of homelessness amongst young people and possible solutions to the problem.

The outcome was that on the 23rd October 1989, Depaul Trust came into existence, with Cardinal Basil Hume OSB their Patron. Initially the Trust was to provide accommodation and support for homeless young people aged 16-25 in London as identified by the Daughters of Charity working in the Passage Day Centre in Victoria.


The beginning

The first Depaul Trust hostel opened in Willesden, Northwest London, providing a safe place for 15 young men and women, away from the cold and dangerous streets. The project provided a warm bed, hot meals, washing facilities and 24 hour access to trained staff who helped them to start addressing the reasons why they had become homeless and to help them on the path to independent living. The need for the project was immediate with demand for bedspaces hugely outweighing the number we had available.

To ensure that we did not have to turn young people away, between 1989 and 1996 Depaul Trust quickly expanded its services in London to projects in Vauxhall, Kilburn, Bayswater, while continuing in Willesden. It introduced a programme 'Steps Away from the Street . Four stages were identified which moved a young person from the streets into permanent accommodation.

Step 1-Emergency Access Nightshelter -Lord Clyde in Vauxhall.
Step 2 -Long and short stay hostels -Willesden and Baywater.
Step 3 - Shared housing - Kilburn
Step 4 - Resettlement and permanent housing - a team working across the projects.

Throughout each stage the young residents took part in pre-employment and lifeskills training which covered shopping, cooking, money management, healthcare and social relationships, in order to equip the young person with the necessary skills to live independently. 'Attempts to tackle homelessness solely by providing accommodation have been shown to be ineffective for many people. One indicator is the high level of tenancy failure where homeless people are rehoused without any kind of support. ' (Resettlement Works, 1999, National Homeless Alliance).


Training & Employment

Many of the young with whom we are working had no formal educational qualifications. Many were functionally innumerate and/or illiterate, both seriously hindering their employment and training prospects. In order for these young people to be able to live on their own it was obvious that some form of training was essential: so in 1995 Depaul Trust introduced Step Ahead. This 6 week foundation course enables the young people to explore, with a trainer, their employment and training needs and what they really want to do. Then with an individualised play they work towards their goal while also covering basic skill needs, Curriculum Vitae and interview techniques.

In 2001 another training course began using learning to drive as an incentive to 'learn'. The 6-week course, Drive Ahead, enables trainees to take part in 6 driving lessons while also covering pre-employment training techniques within a 'driving scenario'. For example, anger management is covered through road rage. As each trainee is encouraged to take their driving theory test whilst on the course, basic skills can be covered. The course is very popular and attracts young people who have never got on in a formal education setting.

After both courses there is an aftercare programme providing support and advice while needed. In 2001 we also began a mentoring project with working or 'student mentors pairing with a young person about to start work or college to provide additional guidance and support. This project has proved very successful. Currently there are 30 Mentee relationships with young people having finished one of our training programmes.


Status Zero

In 1996 Depaul Trust commissioned research into the causes and symptoms of youth marginalisation. The report was called 'Status Zero' - a term used by sociologists to describe young people who have effectively ceased to be part of society; they are not in education, training or employment and have few prospects of participating in any of these things. With an estimated 100,000 16-24 year olds in this predicament during 1996, the research made distressing reading. Why did so many people just starting out in life have such bleak prospects?

The report ended by proposing key initiatives to give young people at risk a better chance of avoiding extreme marginalisation: it became the basis for the development of Depaul Trust. By the time young people were reaching our hostels, many had severe emotional difficulties, perhaps a criminal record and problems with drugs or alcohol. It became imperative that something be done before they arrived at our hostels in London.


Expanding Nationwide


With sharper awareness and better analysis of the problem, Depaul Trust became a national charity in 1997 with the opening of our first project outside London at Simonside Terrace in Newcastle. The aim of this community housing project was to prevent homelessness by intervening at the point of crisis. As well as providing 8 emergency bedspaces for 16-25 year olds, Depaul Trust consulted with the local community to devise a strategy for youth in the area. The aim was to involve the local community and build up a sense in young people of belonging to it.

Alongside the residential project we developed a Sports Coaching course for disaffected young people on local housing estates. By enrolling them through an 8 week sport-coaching programme, the course was then able to assess literacy and training needs and provide opportunities for these young people to access further education or employment. A Community Development Worker brought together young people in the area to help them provide community facilities for themselves and their peers. Through research into ways to benefit their group, the project developed a credit union, volunteering projects and a report into health care needs.

Depaul Trust also developed 7 centres providing disadvantaged individuals and communities access to information, communication and technology resources, across the city of Newcastle. People without ICT skills today are increasingly excluded not just from jobs but from society more widely. Therefore there is a strong social and economic case for helping people without ICT access; we are delighted to be able to provide this opportunity. The centres are placed to reach a diversity of people including Mental Health Concern, YMCA and St. Vincent de Paul Society.



In 1988 Depaul Trust started to work in Birmingham providing a ten-bed housing support unit to 17-25 year old offenders - a project deemed to be hugely needed in the Midlands. After 3 years it was realised that the support needs for the 16-19 age range werc very different to those of over 20s, and wc decided to provide a more specialised service. The younger age range had more family issues to deal with, had often just left care and had very poor lifeskills combined with immaturity.

The Youth Offending Service were interested in our ideas for the project; and following discussions we became involved in their Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme (ISSP) in June 2001. This programme was a new initiative set up by the Youth Justice Board targeting the 3% of persistent young offenders that commit 25% of all crime. Before the arrival of ISSP the courts would have had no alternative but to send the person to custody, due to the severity of their offending.

The ISSP is a highly structured programme that has two key elements:

The missing link in the fair treatment of these offenders was housing. Most supported housing providers will not work with persistent offenders; so if they couldn't live at home they were sent to custody. Therefore we stepped in and provided the missing link to enable homeless young offenders to have the same opportunities as those with family support. Depaul House is unique - no other housing provider works specifically with 16 -19 year old offenders.

Adjacent to the hostel is our community centre, which provides not only essential services for the young people staying at the hostel but also for the local community. The centre has been equipped with a suite of computers offering LearnDirect, IT courses and free Internet access. It also provides a range of local agencies with a base where they can meet, which they previously did not have in the community of Erdington.



With the third highest number of rough sleepers in the UK, Depaul Trust opened their first project in Manchester in 2000. Support services for homeless people in Manchester were aimed mostly at those in the over 25 age group, with lack of provision for young rough sleepers, very different in their needs from the older age group. The SafeStop project based in South Manchester provides 10 bedspaces for men and women aged 16-21 years. It is the only direct access project for this age group in Manchester and also has some longer term bedspaces so that we can work with the young people to start addressing the problems that lead to their housing crisis and move them onto more permanent accommodation.

Accommodation for this age group in Manchester proved very inadequate: so we were delighted to be able to open another project close by to provide much needed longer-term accommodation. Burnage Lane project provides 11 bedspaces for young men and women for up to 2 years. The project provides the residents with the opportunity to 'stabilise' while in a supportive and friendly environment. All residents must take part in lifeskills training and are encouraged to access training or employment.

Since the age group worked with in Manchester is very young; it was felt that some residents would benefit from having a specific person to help them work through difficulties they may have had with family and guardians. Our Family mediation project started in 2001 from the SafeStop project. For many reasons the relationship between young people and their parents can break down. Family breakdown and lack of on-going family support are known to be key factors in young people becoming homeless, and thereafter struggling to make a success of their independence. Whether the young person wants to be independent, remain in hostel accommodation or return home, family mediation can help build bridges to the people who matter to them and with whom they would like to be reconciled or just be in touch. The project has worked with over 90 young people since it began, with four young people having been reconciled with family and, since, moved back home.


Working in Prisons

A number of the young people we were working with were coming straight to our projects from young offender institutions (YOl). It quickly became apparent that support networks for this group were very poor; so after some investigation, Depaul Trust, partnered with the Catholic Bishops Conference, looked at what they could do. Not only were there housing issues that needed tackling but we also found that the re offending rates were very high - over 70%. Young people were being released from custody, often with no home to go to and no support; simply given �93 and told to report to their probation officer. This money is meant to last for 2 weeks before they are able to claim other due benefits. With no home, no food and no support, these young people often felt they had no option but return to crime; they were quickly re-arrested.

Two projects - One to One and Outside Link - were introduced initially in Deerbolt YOI in County Durham, then to other YOls in the UK. The projects work side by side;

This sector of our work is continually expanding. The benefits of the projects have been huge. Every young person who is released homeless is found accommodation. The re-offending rate for those young people taking part in our projects goes down to 36% which, although still high, is a vast improvement on 70%.


Taking the work to Ireland

With 13 years experience of working with the UK s most disadvantaged people, Depaul Trust was invited to Ireland following the increase of homeless and marginalised people of all ages throughout Irish society. The newly formed charity, Depaul Trust in Ireland (Reg. 357828) began in 2002 as a collaboration between Depaul Trust, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Ireland and other members of the Vincentian Family. With the central office based in Dublin, the charity works as an advisory body for SVP hostels and supported housing projects, as well as running their own services.

Depaul Trust Ireland now manages 4 projects in the city of Dublin working with socially excluded people and in particular the young, homeless, drug users, offenders, care leavers and those at risk within their local communities.


The Future

Over the 14 years that Depaul Trust has been in operation the work has developed to meet the ever-changing needs of the client group. While always keeping our initial aim of being a safety net away from the streets, we have developed other projects working alongside our hostels to prevent young people from ending up in this desperate situation. As we look to the future, we predict our work will need to become ever more innovative to reach those people most marginalised. We are committed to researching where there is need and acting on the key proposals from the findings.

We have started to work with disadvantaged people of all ages, through the community centre and ICT centres, and we see this expanding. However we will always remain focused on our specialist services for 16-25 year olds and changing to meet this group s new needs. We are committed to develop our 'Steps away from the Streets programme which has proved to be so valuable in helping young people on the streets to move into independent living.

Our ultimate vision is for everyone to have a place to call home and a stake in their community.


Dr. Ian M Jessiman

'I am delighted to endorse the valuable work done by Depaul Trust helping young people to avoid homelessness, since it began in 1989 under the patronage of the late Cardinal Basil Hume. Emergency shelter, hostels, resettlement and housing projects are the best known aspects of their work. One project which is less well known has been the mentoring scheme for young prisoners in Young Offenders Institutions, which follows them through into the community after discharge. But there is always more such work to be done'


Depaul Trust

We are reliant on donations from individuals, community groups, trusts and companies to carry on the vital work. If you feel able to support our work financially or through volunteering we would love to hear from you. Alternatively if you would like any further information on our work or would like to visit one of our projects we would be delighted to arrange this for you. We can be contacted at Depaul Trust, 1 St. Vincent Street, London W1U 4DA or call 020 7935 0111 or email

Nikki Arden is the Donor Development Officer to the Depaul Trust

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