I’m not a religious or especially spiritual man. So the meaning of Christmas or the winter solstice celebrations might, you’d perhaps think, be lost on me.
But it has becoming an increasingly important time of year for me.
I think most people know I love being a Londoner. I am beyond fortunate in so many ways but simply to be able to live in a city where I’m pretty safe, allowed to do my thing without interruption, eat and sleep in reasonable peace and share it with so many others who enrich my life is what I’d consider a blessing.
However I am only too well aware that my fortune is not universally enjoyed. As with most large cities (and indeed the smaller metropolis and townships) the problems of and associated with homelessness are a constant.
Every year for the last several years I have worked as a volunteer at one of the centres run by the British charity, Crisis. For a week over the Christmas holiday, six day centres, one woman’s only centre and a specialist rough sleepers centre are run by Crisis providing much needed food and care to those who are homeless or without any permanent base. This service is staffed by volunteers and in our centre there are between 180 and 240 visitors daily who receive three meals, access to health and dental care, podiatrists and massage, IT support and a clothing store plus entertainment. A series of people versed in benefits and housing are also on hand to give advice throughout.
It is both enjoyable to take part, even when shivering on some outside duty, and fulfilling. We see old faces, friendly or fierce, grateful or grudging, who turn up year on year. And then we see new faces, tired, dirt grained people whose lives have turned upside down in what feels like an instant. Listen to them and you realise how easy it is, in a large and anonymous city, to fall through the cracks…
Cracks. Hmm, that’s the thing. They’ve becoming chasms. As a society we have overspent ourselves. We still pump money into primary care, increasing NHS budgets. But social care has shrunk. The elderly, those with mental health issues, the vulnerable are all at greater risk as a result. And from those groups, those who end up homeless, have a tiny voice.
So please think about those you see in doorways, or pushing a cart. It seems, so often, you can do little. But you know what they enjoy most about coming to our centres? It’s respect. They are treated as equals, part of a functioning society, not judged. They join in conversations, as we do without thinking, and are not blanked or ignored. It’s the same on the street. Say hello. Wish them well. Chat if you have time. It really does make a difference.
And should you wish to donate, please click here..