To preserve, protect and promote the ocular health of homeless and vulnerable people in the UK who are unwilling or unable to access mainstream services available through the NHS by providing and assisting in the provision of a comprehensive high quality and free at the point of use ocular health service, including screening and the provision of spectacles, that meets the immediate visual needs of our beneficiaries in a safe, accessible, friendly and comfortable environment.
WHAT WE DO:
“Vision Care for Homeless People” is a charity set-up to provide eyecare services to homeless and other vulnerable people in an accessible and friendly environment in which they feel safe, welcome and comfortable.
The majority of homeless and vulnerable people are not in receipt of financial benefits, so are not eligible for an NHS eye examination and a voucher towards their spectacles. For those that are, not many practices will make spectacles free of charge, and a small charge may be unmanageable. We provide a fully comprehensive, high quality service totally free of charge.
We aim to preserve, protect and promote the ocular health of homeless and vulnerable people in the UK who are unwilling or unable to access mainstream services available through the NHS. We include screening of ocular health and the provision of spectacles, that meets the immediate visual needs of our beneficiaries.
HISTORY – HOW IT ALL STARTED:
Discussions to form a charity to provide eyecare to homeless and other vulnerable people started back in April 2003 between four optometrists – Harinder Paul, Elaine Styles, Mohan Vaithianathar and Edwin Achu.
The initial idea came from Harinder. He noticed the lack of eyewear and facilities to provide eyecare to locals during his travels especially in the townships in South Africa. He was inspired to help somehow, and on his return to England, he discussed his observations and ideas with a few people. Since 1997, Elaine had previously run an opticians service at the Crisis Open Christmas. Mohan had also worked for various vision aid organisations providing eyecare to the less fortunate overseas. Edwin had always been keen to do some work with vision aid but the opportunity never presented itself!
They wanted to provide optical services to homeless and other vulnerable people in an environment in which they feel comfortable. It took five months of organization to find the equipment we needed, the right location and the volunteers to run the clinic and in September 2003 the charity was born.
We ran a very successful pilot project for a week in September 2003 during which time we saw 62 people and dispensed 58 spectacles. It was extremely rewarding to see how grateful these people were to have their eyes examined by friendly professionals and supplied with spectacles if needed. Our expectations were definitely exceeded. We knew for sure that there was a great demand for the service and thus decided to provide it on a permanent weekly basis.
HOW WE ARE FUNDED:
Each Vision Care for Homeless People clinic is registered as an opticians practice with the local health authority. This enables us to claim some funding from the NHS for the people we see who are eligible for an NHS eye examination. The majority of our professional staff are volunteers and all the equipment is donated so there are no over heads from that.
The majority of our funding is covered by private donations, sponsored events, grants from charities like Optometry Giving Sight and trusts like the Pret Foundation Trust. This has enabled us to run the service free of charge for everybody who requires it, not just those receiving benefits.
OUR PRIORITIES OVER THE NEXT 12 MONTHS:
We now have three centres in London, one in Birmingham, one in Brighton, one in Manchester, one in Exeter and one in Leeds. We have three other sites under discussion – Newcastle, Bradford and Oxford. We are also looking to pilot a service where we go directly to homeless people, instead of them having to visit our fixed clinics.
Our ultimate aim is to expand this service nationwide in all the major cities, so as to make a difference to as many homeless and vulnerable people as we can. We are actively working towards that.