Hartlepool Night Barber spent £200 of his own money on Easter egg hunt, and is teaming up with local café to provide food for those in need.
Al Devon, from Hartlepool, organised an Easter egg hunt with £200 of his own money for children in the community, on Easter Sunday. Devon is well known in the town for his generosity, most notably, for giving free haircuts to the homeless; after almost finding himself in a similar situation.
Working out of the Burbank Community Centre, Mr. Devon tells Sunderland Global Media how as a single person on Universal Credit, he was not a priority for housing with the council, which opened his eyes to the homelessness issue within Hartlepool.
“In December, my landlord had put my house up for sale. I was lucky enough to have friends and family within the town, but it was still a daunting prospect that just before Christmas, I was going to be forced into the private market, trying to find somewhere to live.”
A father himself, Mr. Devon explains the daunting process a single father has to undertake to find accommodation through Hartlepool Borough Council. “If I had gone to the council, even though I am a father, I would be classed as someone that does not have kids. It asks you on the form if you do have children, and if they do not live with you then you are classed as having no dependents. Because of that, you are then put on a waiting list, which is usually three months.
“I was lucky to have friends and family to fall back on, but that moment changed everything.”
Originally Barbering out of his own premises, Mr. Devon moved to the Burbank Community Centre two months ago.
“I started in my shop where I got to talk to men in different situations, and because I only did appointments, it could be quite personal. I got an insight into the lives of lots of different types of people.”
“I would walk to work and spot homeless people on the street and think ‘That could have been me if I did not have my support structure around me.’ So, I decided to do two days of free haircuts as a gesture, with no plans to do anything after that.”
A number of people turned up when they heard about the generous offer, he continues: “About eight people came in, and to be honest, my eyes were opened to a lot that day. Some people that came in weren’t actually homeless, telling me openly where they lived and how much they make sitting on the street. One person told me they only dress the way that they do, because he makes more money that way. I was disappointed, but there were more genuine cases that came in.”
Information from charitable organisation ‘Shelter’ states that community landlord waiting lists don’t work on a ‘first come first serve basis’ and that, by law, priority must be given to certain groups of people, such as people who are legally classed as homeless. This is called giving ‘reasonable preference.’
However, being given ‘reasonable preference’ does not always guarantee you a place. There might be a long waiting list and limited places available.
“If a person tells the council that they are homeless, but are currently sleeping on someone’s couch, they would not deem you homeless.” Mr. Devon said.
“They won’t consider that you might feel uncomfortable there, or that you’re moving from one couch to the next. Even if you are completely homeless and have no dependents, you are put on a waiting list.”
There are emergency accommodation options available, but he states they are not suitable for everyone.
Mr. Devon has teamed up with a landlord to create a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO). For a person to meet the criteria, they must have registered as homeless with Hartlepool Borough Council. They will then reportedly carry out background checks to ensure the safety of those currently living in the house.
“You don’t get discriminated against if you are in rent arrears” he added.
When asked how many people the HMO has helped so far, he said: “Four people have been through the house so far, the first person got a job within a few weeks and moved out, but another person that came in was in the property two full months, received his housing benefit and rather than paying the landlord, he ran away with it.
“The landlord still believes in what we are trying to do.”
“It was demoralising, but thankfully, the landlord still believes in what we are trying to do and the guys we have in there now – you could not ask for better lads.”
Most recently, Mr. Devon organised an Easter egg hunt in Ward Jackson park for children in the community.
The hunt was scheduled to begin at 10:00am on Easter Sunday, but was reportedly a disaster.
“My two friends and I hid lots of Easter eggs in the park at 8:30am and by 9:30am, they were all gone.
“I had to go back to the shop and spend nearly another £100 on eggs because I could see kids walking around without any and I felt awful.”
Mr Devon has also reportedly paid £100 to local cafe, The Vinery, for members of the community that are struggling to be able to have a hot cup of coffee and a bacon sandwich.
“It costs very little, but you can make a big difference by doing a few small things.”
“You can do a lot more with nothing, than the council can do with hundreds of pounds. They should be doing these things, it would gain trust from the community.”
Despite some individuals abusing his generosity, Mr. Devon remains hopeful and is not deterred from helping those in need. “You have to trust the public, there will always inevitably be those that take advantage, unfortunately. But if more places were willing to do small gestures, we could make a big difference.”
Working closely with training companies within the town, Mr. Devon said “If you’re in Hartlepool and unemployed, or employed on a low income, you can sign up for a free training course through the Burbank Community Centre. To find out what is available, you can contact me through my Facebook page. – https://www.facebook.com/HartlepoolNightBarber“
Al Devon is also in the Burbank Community Centre on Thursdays on a drop-in basis.