WITH UP to ten inches of snow set to arrive this week, most people are looking forward to coming home in the evening to a well-heated and safe home to enjoy a hot meal, a bath and a warm bed.

But many people will be settling down on the streets in towns across Essex this winter with only a blanket, sleeping bag or cardboard box between them and the sub-zero temperatures.

But help is on hand: a Chelmsford charity, Churches Homeless Emergency Support Scheme (CHESS), offers homeless people accommodation and support to help them move on with their lives.

It was set up as a night shelter by Christian churches in the 1990s and boasted a day shelter by 2007.

CHESS is advertised online, and Day Centre Manager Richard Flight said people come from across Essex and Britain to use the facilities.

“There’s nowhere near enough funding but, if it wasn’t for us, who knows how many people would have starved,” he added.

The 39-year-old decided to volunteer at the centre following his experience being homeless on the streets of Chelmsford aged 18 and 19.

“When I became homeless there was nowhere in Chelmsford for me to go; I was told to go to Colchester but I had never been there before so I decided to stay in my home town,” he said.

“But I was forced to sleep on the streets for three months, before sofa surfing at friends’ houses.”

In 2007, when he lost his job, Mr Flight struggled to find work, and eventually enquired about volunteering.

Many good causes were suggested, but due to his time on the streets, volunteering at CHESS struck a personal chord.

After working in the kitchens for three months, Mr Flight was promoted to Day Centre Manager, and he has been with CHESS ever since.

“I personally hope I’ve made a difference – I’m someone homeless people can relate to,” he said.

“I think my angle is unique, having been homeless myself I give our service users something different from talking to successful businessmen on the board of trustees.”

One of its service users, Horace Donaldson, 49, has been homeless since November 2008, when his house was repossessed after he could not meet mortgage payments.

“I didn’t really get much help from the council, but luckily I was able to stay with my dad in Chelmsford for a few months,” said Horace.

When he was asked to leave in April 2009, another relative in Braintree offered him a place to stay, but by June he was homeless again.

But CHESS kept him out of the cold and have made sure he had a roof above his head every day since.

Horace was shifted between various shelters before moving to temporary accommodation in August 2009.

“It was the first time I had ever been in that position, so I didn’t really know what it was going to be like,” he said.

“But the people at CHESS genuinely tried to help – you may not get what you expect, but it’s somewhere you can turn to and it’s better than nothing.”

When he settled in the house, on Kings Road, Horace found various jobs; working as a forklift truck driver, an industrial cleaner and a hotel porter. He has now established himself as a kitchen assistant in Ingatestone.

Horace has been saving money for more than a year, and aims to move into a flat in Ingatestone by March 2011, and hopes this might offer the fresh start he needs.

“I’m hopeful about the future, but you need to be realistic – there are a lot of people in a similar position, particularly in the last couple of years with the recession.”