The letting agent allowing one word - trust - to help the homeless secure a roof over their heads
- Credit: Archant
It may have sounded like a tough challenge at first, but the feeling of rehoming the homeless is something like no other for Blake Heron.
“It’s an indescribable feeling. All of the credit has to go to Spike and 50 Backpacks,” he said.
Blake is a director at Wisbech rental agency Just Lets, the company behind helping Simon Crowson, known to many as ‘Spike’, find accommodation for rough sleepers.
Having previously looked at investing in the town, Blake and his team moved into an office on Bridge Street last May, the same premises that 50 Backpacks share, after buying stock from Just Lets’ predecessor Regal Rooms.
“When Spike walked into that building, we connected quite well,” said Blake. “We’ve both had struggles in our past with our mental health, our living conditions and I really liked what he was doing.”
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After being told someone Spike knew was involved in an incident, the mission was to find somewhere safe for them to stay, and since then, their partnership continued to grow.
“I think someone had been beaten up and robbed. We got him somewhere, it went well, we managed to help someone and we grew from there,” Blake said.
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Blake, whose parents worked in the military, suffered with mental health issues during childhood and these were experiences the 25-year-old was able to share with Spike.
“I got into some illegal activity which then followed into addiction and it culminated where I was being prescribed medication, which was a turning point when my mum nearly had a breakdown and I was sofa surfing,” he admitted. “I was lost in life.”
Now running his family business, Blake has come far from the times he was living with the likes of anxiety and depression in a bid to move on from what was a dark past.
Since the end of summer last year, he and Spike have worked together to help those struggling in a similar situation.
“When I spoke to Spike, we figured out a way to help people. I wouldn’t class what I went through anywhere near as rough as what some of these guys have been through,” Blake said.
“Doing something with Spike was an option I sought because he was really helping these people, giving them the support, they needed before, during and after they got moved into my places.” While Blake has been working in the town, he has also worked with The Ferry Project and built a relationship with Fenland District Council to help boost his company’s portfolio of properties.
Although he does not rehome rough sleepers through the council, Blake said the connection between Just Lets and local authorities is vital, particularly while he and his team work to rehome those linked to 50 Backpacks.
“My relationship with the council is primarily based on trying to keep and raise the standards of the housing stock I took over,” he confirmed. “My relationship with them is really important because I can make sure my stock is all up to scratch and potentially start leading by example in the town and anywhere I do it.”
It’s thought around 15 to 17 people have been rehomed thanks to Blake’s work with 50 Backpacks, and by following a quick and simple process, these figures could well rise. But it’s more than just figures for Blake.
“What I do is something that can offer an opportunity to people. Once you get home and a roof over your head and a chance at a fresh start, it makes a big difference to peoples’ lives,” he said.
“I trust Spike, which means I can trust the people that he brings me.
“Spike sits down with me and the person and I get to hear about what issues they’ve had, what kind of house they want to live in and I’ve not had any issues with anyone that’s moved in from 50 Backpacks.”
No issue, no problem, and he hopes it can stay that way. With a willingness to help and a partnership built on strong foundations, there is light at the end of the tunnel for those aiming to rebuild their lives.
“I didn’t expect it to be as easy to grow that impact as quickly as we have with 50 Backpacks, but that’s down to the amount of work they do and the amount of hours Spike is putting in,” Blake said.
“What 50 Backpacks is doing is amazing and there’s no limitation to the work I’d do with them or the support I give them.
“My hope would be what we can do here is grow it to a point where it moves into other areas. At the point they expand, I would make sure I have an agency in the place they’re expanding to so we can continue there too.”