“THE general public need to be aware that there are homeless and unemployed people everywhere and should not be prejudged and stigmatised for being at a bad point in their lives.”

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Those are the words of a woman who suddenly found herself unemployed and homeless last year through no fault of her own.

But with help from a St Albans organisation, 52-year-old Julie Cherry has managed to get her life back on track.

Julie relocated to Hertfordshire from Devon in October last year to take up new employment. She had left her home and accompanying furniture and was staying with friends until she started work and could find a place of her own.

But complications arose with the position and Julie found herself without work.

She explained: “I had no income, no job and was homeless all at once. After a week of going to the local housing department for emergency accommodation, a bed was found in a night shelter facility for a month.”

At the end of the month, Julie was moved to another facility and spent all her days in the city library looking for accommodation and work.

Six weeks later, Julie was moved to the Open Door night shelter in St Albans, where things started to change for the better.

She said: “The members of staff were more supportive and helped to ease the pressure from gaining employment and accommodation.”

During her time at the Bricket Road facility, Julie was introduced to a representative from St Albans District Credit Union, a not-for-profit community bank which assists the financially disadvantaged.

After completing the necessary checks, the Credit Union was able to offer Julie a loan for a deposit and the first six months rent, on a private flat.

Shortly after moving in, Julie was also able to secure employment at a local care agency in March which meant that she needed a car to get to her client’s houses. Once again the Credit Union stepped in to help and provided her with a loan to purchase a small, second-hand car.

“I could then start working and feel like a valued and recognised member of the community,” she said.

Looking back on the experience a year on, Julie said she felt as if help was more easily available to those with drug, alcohol and/or mental health issues, which added to her feelings of “despair, isolation and embarrassment”.

Julie continued: “The Credit Union literally saved me from a vicious circle of despair and hopelessness. It has really helped me to get back on my feet and I cannot emphasise enough how important its services have been to me.”

Arthur Chapman, one of the Credit Union’s directors and loan officer, said: “St Albans may well be an affluent area but there are pockets of high deprivation, particularly as affordable accommodation is so hard to find and with the Government tightening up benefits.

“There are currently around 1,100 people in the city registered as of no fixed abode by the council and this is a very real issue which needs to be more widely recognised and dealt with.”

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