When I shared some earlier blog posts, including on homelessness, I got one response to the effect why just talk about; why not offer your services to HARP? I gritted my teeth and (I hope) responded winsomely. Let me make it first clear that I do work with HARP and they do a great job. But the need out there, as far as homeless folk are concerned, is ever great, and far more than HARP or anyone else can/do meet. I have documented as honestly as I can what I see as the needs and I don’t wish to elaborate here. I append something I have just posted on Facebook that illustrates not just that there are gaps but what I do goes far beyond merely talking about the issue.
My challenge is compassion overload and not neglecting my family and health. Hearing harrowing stories at Street Spirit on Saturday night and St. Andrews Open House Sunday night, which are not untypical (as those that deal directly with homeless folk will no doubt identify with) can leave one shell shocked. My advice, and it is just as well I am old and grumpy so I can say this: “See what is out there; find where you can fit in; show compassion by simple acts of kindness. If you do wish to get more involved: seek advice, work with others, recognise you are in an environment comprising fools, villains and good guys and you operate in a paradigm of incomplete knowledge where people, especially the homeless, tell you only snapshots and sometimes inaccurately at that, and pace yourself (we are in a marathon and not a sprint), learn wisdom, keep serene, be humble and gracious and leave the rest to God”.
My first involvement full time in community work was with Trust Links / Growing Together. The person who did most to get this going was Cherry Higgins. Cherry used to say: “we are here to spot the gaps and then do what we can to close them“. She was right of course and as I get more skeptical the gaps just seem to widen but then closing them has to be our watchword. Before pasting my Facebook note, may I remind folk that SHAN will be meeting Tuesday 9th September 11-12.30, when we will be looking at some of these issues, and I will be around with my stall at the Southend Community-in-Harmony event on Sunday 21st September.
“The first hit when I did a Google search on the definition of homeless was: “without a home, and therefore typically living on the streets”, and I am quite happy to use that as a working definition although many of the homeless people I meet are sofa surfing and living on squats, tents, cars etc.
We recorded 22 people we helped when we went out on Saturday. There were probably 2-3 we didn’t record. Of those we helped, 4 were definitely not homeless but all had needs bordering on destitution. Of the 18 we recorded as homeless, as per definition, 4 were sofa surfers i.e. borderline, but then doing so day to day and could end up on the streets anytime.
All had needs, some horrendous. I think all conducted themselves well and with customary dignity and humour. We try to ensure all go away with their bellies full. Besides food, we gave out two sleeping bags (thanks to the Street Pastors) several items of clothing, and the size 8 boots that was earlier requested (though heavier duty for future reference please as these guys walk a lot). We still need more suitable clothes e.g. a medium size mans fleece has been requested,
We have records of those who have come these past 8 weeks. It isn’t rocket science as the situation doesn’t allow. We miss a few and are conned by a few, but the great majority have genuine need and the great majority are homeless. We have had over 20 each of these past 8 weeks, We have seen 84 in total and there is always someone(s) new each week, Most engage with HARP, sometimes reluctantly. The benefits situation is varied and some do miss out (some altogether especially if they are foreign or disinclined to engage with the system or, as is sadly easily done, have been sanctioned).
Our records are subject to scrutiny and may be shared with partners (with names blanked out / on a need to know basis as we respect people’s privacy). These are the FACTS. People can make what they will of them. We don’t judge and try not to pontificate; rather we focus on meeting some of the needs we can. If you want further clarification, I will try to oblige. The need is big, but the wonderful help given by so many (often with quite different philosophies to life to my own) has helped us to rise to the challenge and otherwise unmet need, which looks to be ongoing for the foreseeable future.
If you want to meet those involved, we will be at the fund raising meal on Thursday. There may be places but check first.