It’s that time of year when the nights are now getting colder and most people are starting to make plans for Christmas. It’s traditionally a time for spending it with your family and loved ones, the chance to gorge on food and drink, to buy and receive lots of presents and watch lots of Christmas telly.
But what about those who are not fortunate enough to have a roof over their head. People who don’t have a job and have to struggle every day just to try and get enough food to eat? I have had many discussions with friends and work colleagues about the homeless over the years. People usually fall into two camps in giving their opinion – those who are sympathetic to their plight and then there are the people who think that all homeless people are either drug addicts or alcoholics and don’t deserve any help. It is a sad fact that many homeless people do have these problems but we should remember they are still humans and deserve compassion and empathy. If you have ever had to live on the streets and beg for money it is a soul destroying experience, unfortunately there are temptations to try and find something that will help to numb the pain. We should remember that homeless people are someone’s father, mother, sister, brother, uncle etc. they each have a history and due to a number of events in their life they find themselves in their situation.
I support various charities, I have chosen each one because I have an affinity towards them. I was homeless for six months when I was 17, it was a bleak period in my life and one that I still look back on and wonder sometimes how I managed to get through it. I out stayed my welcome with family members and friend’s floors and eventually had to sleep in squats, in parks and sometimes just wandered the streets all night. Whilst it was a very dark time in my life it is something I will always remember because it has made me thankful every day that I now have a roof over my head, I have food in my belly, I am self employed with a good job and lead a blessed life.
I first got involved with Crisis at Christmas in 1996. My partner at the time had passed away and I was incredibly depressed. I was estranged from my family at the time and I didn’t want to burden any of my friends with my dark mood. Despite my grief I was determined not to let the situation get the better of me. I have always been a fighter and a survivor so I decided to do something constructive and become a Crisis at Christmas charity volunteer. It is one of the best decisions I have ever made. No matter how bad we feel our situation is at times, we should always remember there are people who are less fortunate than us and if we have a chance to help in any way then we should try to if we can.
I remember my first Crisis experience vividly. We had to prepare a warehouse in South East London to make it habitable for all the guests that would be staying there over the Christmas week. We spent the day weeding, cleaning, unpacking all the supplies, setting up the venue and making it a welcoming place for the Christmas week. I had volunteered at the dependency shelter and was slightly nervous as I wasn’t sure what to expect. I met many other volunteers during that week who came from different backgrounds, some like me had also been homeless at a point in their lives and they wanted to give something back. We all bonded with each other because we had a common purpose, to help make the guests have their best Christmas ever.
There are many roles that you can do as a Crisis volunteer. They can range from being on toilet duty, checking in guests bags, manning the sleeping area, working in the kitchens, befriending the guests and helping them learn online skills, playing games with the guests and many more. You can also be a specialist/services volunteer if you have a certain skill that you can offer. This can range from podiatry, veterinary service, dogs volunteer, masseuse, hairdresser, healing – if you have a skill, you can help. Crisis offers so many services at their shelters, the list is almost endless!
I have met many guests over the various years that I have been a volunteer. I have heard heart breaking stories that will make you cry, met people who have experienced some of the worst life experiences you can imagine and yet they have survived and overcome some major obstacles. The human spirit really is an amazing thing, we each have our own barrier of pain and suffering that we can bear. There are some guests who spend most of the year in silence, they don’t mix with other people until they get to Crisis and the care and compassion that is shown to them by the volunteers is incredibly precious.
If you have any spare time this Christmas please think about volunteering with Crisis or one of the other homeless charities. It is such a rewarding experience and you will be offering so much more to many people other than just your time. You will be offering the gift of compassion to those in need, that is far more valuable than any present you could give someone.
To find out more about the homeless charities you can go to the following websites:
Crisis – www.crisis.org.uk
St Mungo’s – www.mungos.org
Shelter – www.shelter.org.uk
Emmaus – www.emmaus.org.uk
Centrepoint – www.centrepoint.org.uk