I have talked before about Crisis, the charity formed in the 1960s to supply help at Christmas to London’s homeless community. It was on the back of many high profile campaigns including the amazing TV film Cathy Come Home that Crisis started with the intention of ending homelessness. It was seen as a scandal that it was so widespread in a wealthy country such as Great Britain. Crisis is now over 40 years old and it is no nearer succeeding in its goal.
I know that for sure, not only because of the occasional sad soul I pass, crouched in the corner of a doorway but because, today, Crisis at Christmas opened its doors once again to supply beds, advice, hot food, fresh clothing, diverse services such as opticians, doctors, dentists, podiatrists, and hair dressing and entertainment across London. I was one of 85 volunteers doing the morning shift in the South London Day Centre. A similar number take over for the evening and there are six such day centres around London with others in other cities. In addition there are rough sleepers centres for those with no roof over their heads (some of our guests are sofa surfing or in short term hostels) and a woman only centre for the most vulnerable women.
Up to 200 guests can be provided for in our centres. Today the weather was blissful for late December, unlike the teeming rain of last year but even so the number of guests in need of basic support continues to rise.
I am a general volunteer. I do whatever is asked of me. The whole operation is run by volunteers of whom the shift leaders are quite exceptional. They pull the strings and keep the ship afloat. It could be helping in the canteen, serving or cleaning up (there are specialists actually in the kitchen: each volunteer there has to have a level two catering qualification to ensure safety and hygiene standards are met). It might be in the shift office, ensuring a smooth flow of supplies. Or on the front gate welcoming the guests and signing them in. Maybe it’s the luggage store or ensuring the toilets and showers are clean. There are numerous roles and everyone is moved around to make certain each volunteer can experiences a different view of what is happening and meet the guests and talk to them.
Talking to them is so important. Little things like having people on the doors opening them makes the guests feel human again, not ignored.
Today I found, as a reasonably experienced volunteer, I was running the clothing provision. That means sorting the deliveries and donations, taking the requests placed by guests and trying to meet their needs. I felt a little like a cross between Mr Humphries in Are you Being Served and Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army (sorry for the very British cultural allusion; try this link and this to get the gist). We had a steady stream of guests and their pretty universal gratitude is touching.
While most of the guests are British, over 100 different nationalities were supported last year. Anyone and everyone can slip through the cracks in society’s thin veneer.
Nowadays Crisis doesn’t just work at Christmas but is a year round organisation. It’s most recent campaign – No One Turned Away – aims to ensure homeless people get the proper levels of support they need wherever they are in the country. A petition is running and given the time of year and how much we who are lucky enough to have safe places to be are able to enjoy time with our families, I would ask each and every one of you who have read this far to click on this link and sign the petition. Every little helps and boy do these people need it.
I’m back again tomorrow and on Christmas Day. Tiring for sure but rewarding beyond the simple signs of gratitude that surround you. I expect this will be my last post before Christmas day. A good time to reflect a little. I’ve had one hell of a year and part of the fun has been in my discovery of the world of blogging and you blogger and blogreaders. I am as my dear departed dad said on many occasions, most notably when the Textiliste agreed to marry me ‘a lucky little bleeder’. So it’s time to put back and pay forward. Merry Christmas.