12 April 2016
Prisca Leonard works for New Hope, an organisation working to serve people who are homeless or in a vulnerable housing situation in Watford.
New Hope won the Evangelical Alliance's Inspiring Project award at the Inspire Awards last November – what do you do there?
I'm a project worker in one of New Hope's services called the Community Home. Our service offers short-term accommodation, a safe and secure environment for those with substance misuse problems who are motivated to change. Part of my role is to oversee the day-to-day running of the service and ensure the security of the house.
The main part of my job is to provide practical and emotional support to individuals during the early stages of recovery. Each individual has a designated keyworker meeting on a regular basis as part of their support plan to reduce substance misuse dependency.
How did you get involved in New Hope?
I got married and moved to Watford in 2009 and in 2010 saw a part-time job advertised on the New Hope website – I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to continue working with people who were homeless and vulnerable. I fell in love with New Hope's ethos, which incorporated Christianity in the help and rehabilitation of the service users.
How are you seeing New Hope make a difference to those facing homelessness?
New Hope is working to prevent homelessness in our town, supporting people regardless of who they are. Each year, New Hope helps more than 600 people.
Most of the time people have needs beyond just being homeless, so we help individuals to access the appropriate support they require by working alongside external agencies.
We see people who come to us at rock bottom grow in confidence, we see people who are trapped in addiction experience freedom, and we see people move from being homeless on the street, or sofa-surfing, to living in their own flats. We see people gain employment and we see people discover the Lord and become settled in local churches.
How does being a Christian impact the way you do your work?
Being a Christian impacts the way I do my work by literally involving God in every aspect of my job. Prayer is at the centre of our work. At the start and end of each shift staff pray together committing the service and everything we do to God, and asking for God's guidance and wisdom for the decisions we make.
What are the best bits about your job?
The best bit of my job is seeing people overcome addiction and start to look toward the future with hope. We don't see everyone succeed, but it's important that we don't give up on people. We do our best to stay positive and see the best in people: "A seed sown is never wasted."
What are the biggest challenges?
The biggest challenges are seeing people with addictions struggle to overcome them. Sometimes we see people come and go and return again to our services. I find it sad seeing this cycle of addiction continue to ruin people's lives. Through these challenges, we know that it's only God who can give us strength to continue to walk alongside individuals. New Hope ensures that the staff are also given efficient support and are equipped to deal with these challenges.
How can Christians best serve those going through a housing crisis?
I know that Christians in and around Watford are a huge support to our services. Churches are involved in many ways, through prayer, financial support and food donations. People have volunteered at New Hope since the very beginning.
However, I think it's important for churches to be aware of the housing needs people face. Housing is such a huge problem across the country and I think the radical way would probably be for Christians to pray and work together to solve the housing needs. I also think people who are homeless should be on the top of the council housing list because they are the most vulnerable.
What is the most important lesson you've learnt, either from life or from your work?
At home I have an ornament that says: "In everything give thanks." Coming from Zimbabwe, life was never easy compared to my life today in the UK, so I'm thankful to God each day. The most important lessons are the ones I learned from my parents: I grew up seeing their passion for the Lord, how they led their own lives, their prayer lives, and knowing the love of God. I also treasure biblical lessons available to those who seek them to continue to teach and guide us in how to live life today.
At work, I learn so much about people's backgrounds and what life throws at them. Never judge a book by its cover because no one decides to be homeless. People go through difficult circumstances in life that leads them to be vulnerable. Our work can be quite challenging and you learn straight away that you can't do it in your own strength: you can't change people. So it's important to put God at the centre of it all and to always remember that we are the hands and feet of Jesus, representing him.