Homelessness can affect anyone. You are not alone
There is plenty of help and advice out there if you are currently homeless or at risk of homelessness. Here, you will find contacts and links to agencies and charities. You will be able to access a huge range of resources and advice online, along with helplines and contact information for immediate help.
Expert support 7 days a week
If you are in Essex and are homeless, sofa surfing or at risk, then you may be eligible to access the resources at Colchester Engagement & Next Steps. We offer temporary accommodation, 7 days a week and we will support you to access the help you may need to move on to more permanent housing.
Get in touch
If you urgently need help now, are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless, please contact us immediately. You can either call us on 01206 549 885 or fill in the form below, giving us as much information as possible and we will be in touch. We are here to help you.
How CENS works
Whether you have been sofa surfing, rough sleeping or have recently lost your tenancy, our doors are open to anyone who is currently homeless
We have staff dedicated to support you in finding suitable accommodation. We will always advise and resettle residents where we can. The options you have will be dependent on your personal situation and you will need to work with us by keeping to your appointments when liaising with the council, housing associations and private landlords.
Your stay at CENS is for 28 days initially. We hope this will give you time to settle after your period of homelessness and allow you to look for a more permanent place to live. Your stay can be extended if you remain homeless and comply with the CENS license agreement and rules.
You will be asked to pay £4 a day, payable in cash or via bank transfer, as a service charge. We are a charity and rely on donations, but these unfortunately don’t cover all the day-to-day costs of running the shelter. The service charge will go towards your food, toiletries, use of our laundry room and general running of the project. We hope this will also give you the opportunity to practice budgeting and managing your finances in preparation for when you move on.
The safety and security of our residents, staff and everyone involved with CENS is our main priority and therefore we have a zero-tolerance policy on alcohol and drugs. On arrival at CENS, you will be breathalysed and drug-tested. We also breathalyse everyone whenever they re-enter the building and drug test periodically.
If you do have a problem with substance misuse, we can refer you to agencies and experts, who will be able to help with this specific issue, as we understand that this may have contributed to your homelessness and we are here to help.
We are open 24/7 at the weekends which means you do not have to leave the project on Saturdays or Sundays. Monday to Friday, we ask residents to leave at 9.30am and our doors open again at 5pm. This is subject to change and dependent on how many members of staff we have available at any given time.
We ask that you remain overnight at the project for the first 7 days of your stay. However, we understand how important it is to stay in touch with friends and family so after this time, if you would like to sleep elsewhere, please discuss your plans with staff. We ask that you commit to stay in the shelter for 4 nights a week after the first week.
You will need the following:
Some form of ID
Your National Insurance number
Money for your service charge (£4 per day)
Clothes and personal belongings and any medication you may have. We provide you with secure lockers for any valuables and medication.
Unfortunately, we don’t allow non-residents into the building.
We can accept couples at CENS although as we have single rooms, you won’t be able to share a bedroom. You may be asked to separate your Universal Credit Claim before arrival.
What CENS can offer
We understand that homelessness can be an extremely unsettling and worrying time, therefore we are committed to supporting you in moving forward and getting back on your feet.
Here are some of the services we offer:
- Help with finding more permanent accommodation
- In-house emotional support from our dedicated project workers
- Access to agencies to aid you with substance misuse, debt and financial difficulties, benefit claims and health problems
- A newly-refurbished bedroom with ensuite bathroom
- Laundry room with washing machines and tumble driers
- Toiletries, bedding and towels
- Wifi and access to an office phone if you need to make phone calls, access to computer
- Breakfast and a hot freshly-cooked meal every evening
What we ask of you
We ask that you come with the commitment and determination to work with the staff at CENS to help resolve your current difficulties. To gain the most from your experience here at CENS, and to benefit from all we have to offer, it is really important that you work with us at every step of your stay.
- Being respectful to staff, other residents, and the facilities
- Keeping your appointments with CENS staff and with external agencies
- Being honest and open with staff about your current situation and any issues that have contributed to your homelessness – we only want to help and can only do this with accurate information
- Paying your £4 service charge and speaking to staff if you are having difficulties with this or are struggling with making the payments
- Staying in the project for the first seven days of your stay. If you wish to stay out overnight after this time, please arrange this with staff. If your room remains empty for too many nights, we may have to offer it to someone else, so please keep us informed at all times
- Keeping your room clean and tidy. At CENS, everyone can enjoy the privacy of their own bathrooms, use of the laundry room and household cleaning equipment, so it is your responsibility to ensure the facilities are maintained to a high standard. Please also ensure you wash up your own crockery and cutlery
- Returning to the project by 10pm each night and retiring to your room by 11pm
- Remaining alcohol and drug free throughout your stay
When you arrive
We ask that new residents arrive between 5.30pm – 6pm (unless advised otherwise). You will be greeted by one of our team’s project workers, who will take you to a confidential space to support you with the booking-in procedure. This is where we gather information about your specific needs to get an idea of how we can help. You will be guided through the regulations of your stay at CENS and we can answer any questions you may have.
As we are a drug and alcohol-free project, you will be drug-tested and breathalysed on arrival. We can signpost you to substance misuse agencies if this is required.
You will be shown around the building and assigned your own room, complete with ensuite bathroom facilities. We will also supply you with toiletries, bedding and towels.
We understand that it can be an overwhelming experience, so feel free to acclimatise to your new situation and environment however you feel most comfortable. Our project workers are available for a friendly chat and can introduce you to the other residents, or if you would prefer you can retire to your room for some time on your own and some privacy.
We also offer a cooked meal every evening which you can either enjoy in our communal areas or by yourself.
CENS daily routine
During the week we wake residents from 7.30am and provide a breakfast of toast and cereal. You may be invited to meet with day staff who will support you with any move-on activities such as making phone calls to agencies or providing evidence for your housing application. Otherwise, we ask you to leave the building by 9.30am.
We re-open every evening at 5pm where you will be breathalysed on re-entry. A cooked meal is then served around 6.30pm. You are free to leave in the evening but please return before 10pm when we close and secure the building. We ask all residents to retire to their rooms by 11pm.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, CENS had a total refurbishment, so every resident now has access to their own private bedroom and bathroom, to reduce the possibility of contamination.
Staff keep communal areas clean and sanitized and we complete a covid screening process before admitting anyone into the project. We Covid test upon arrival and carry out random tests on a regular basis. All residents must be either vaccinated or be willing to have vaccinations. Staff also regularly self-test for COVID to ensure the safety of colleagues and residents
For more help
Help with housing
Support for young people and their families
Domestic abuse support
Youth Enquiry Service
Centre for Action on Rape and Abuse in Essex
Colchester Open Road
Drug & alcohol support
Community integration through education & employment
Refugee & migrant support
The mental health charity
020 8519 2122
Shelter offer online housing advice, including information on eviction, rent, benefits and money problems, finding a home, help if you become homeless, restrictions and moving home.
0808 800 4444
Centerpoint focus on youth homelessness, offering practical advice, helplines, help and information to anyone in England aged 16-25.
0800 800 0661
StreetLink offers the public a means to act when they see someone sleeping rough. It’s the first step you can take to ensure rough sleepers are connected to local services and support available to them.