These past few weeks I have been looking forward to night shelters beginning and have been blogging about it (here, here and here). Last night it all began and this morning, having survived and looking forward to a nap, I’m here at my laptop writing about our experience. One down, 16 more nights to go! I won’t go into specific details for confidentiality reasons, not just out of respect for our guests but also for our volunteers who do what they do for the right reasons and not for ostentation – but here are my reflections …
Preparing these past few weeks for these 12 and bit hour night shelter session, for what turned out on this occasion to be an opportunity to serve 16 guests with hopefully Benedictine like hospitality, was hard work, and being involved during that period just as hard, even with the same number of volunteers to help. But it was all worth it in the end and satisfying because we made a difference. Having a team coming from all over the place, many not knowing each other beforehand, and then working well together and having fun while we were at it, all with a common purpose, was a joy to behold (seeing a pillar of the establishment and an anarchist type working side by side was brilliant!) and bodes well for the future.
All looked as it would go peacefully until one guest began to “kick off”, disrupting the sleeping of all the other guests for the early part of the sleep session, culminating in said “kicking off” guest being asked to leave and leaving. Even after experiencing a number of awkward incidents last year, the nature of this one was new to me and one we couldn’t have foresawn and seen off without changing the ambiance of what we do. It was a wicked, dammed if you do and if you don’t, situation and after soul searching (and there was a lot that followed) we couldn’t have been much wiser after the event. Working in restricted space added to the challenge. Positives included team being more closely knit together and street savvy – baptisms of fire can be painful but also necessary if we are to grow. Peace did get restored eventually and it all ended well.
So in conclusion, the show is now on the road and, while I am under no illusion about this solving Southend’s rough sleeper problems, what we do significantly helps. We were the 5th shelter on the daily row to start, 2 more to go and then back to the beginning and so round and round 16 more times and then a much welcomed rest. I doubt other shelters had an experience like we did today but any shelter could have and may well do so in the future, for that is how the dice tends to roll! But worthwhile undertaking it most certainly was (is and will be); grateful and appreciative was how most guests declared themselves; superb our newbie volunteers most certainly were; lessons to be learned just as certainly, there are and will be. I hope more will join us and support if they can (think practical) for this noble cause. I look forward to the rest of the season!
UPDATE 26/12/14: 3 cwns sessions down and a 4th about to start (tonite). So far so good but it is a long haul and willing volunteers always appreciated, especially when stalwarts can’t make it (as is the case tonite). So if having read this and the previous three blogs in the series you would like to give it a try or maybe at one of the other shelters then please contact me. Best to to fill in and email back to me the completed form found here.