Much of my community activist “career” for the past 15 years has focused on those “less fortunate” when it comes to how they are doing generally and how best to help, and for half that time the group I have particularly concentrated on are the homeless and those for one reason or another are linked to the homeless.
I don’t say these things to blow my own trumpet, realising that I have not “succeeded” anywhere nearly as much I would have liked and many others have played their part. Maybe, my own role has been to work with some of these many others. Nor do I wish to patronise this particular section of the less well off in our society, mindful of considerable variations in attitudes and circumstances.
Since I began blogging some two and a half years back, I suppose my biggest successes as far as getting meaningful responses went was in the area of homelessness. While the need remains, at least we have made certain inroads into identifying and addressing some of the issues. While I can hardly take credit, it seems that the number of people meaningfully responding to the needs of the homeless have increased, and while there is a lot going on that is helpful, the needs appear to be as great as ever. However, the need to help the majority better understand and respond to homeless issues remains.
Regarding my own involvement, this includes:
Southend Homeless Action Network (SHAN): SHAN does what it says on the tin. It brings together people with an interest in helping the homeless. Through the power of networking it tries to make a difference (and has). SHAN meets every other month and its meetings are well attended.
Street Spirit: Street Spirit is a soup kitchen that doesn’t dispense soup. It is a grass roots response to a real need. It operates every Saturday night from a car park in the centre of town and offers food, drink, clothes, a listening ear and friendly face to some 50 or so homeless and vulnerable people.
Church Winter Night Shelters (CWNS): is a church response offering overnight accommodation to up to twenty homeless persons during the winter. Typically, seven churches are involved in the scheme and each night in the week for four months one of them offers hospitality to those referred.
Other: Besides being regularly involved with all the above I am also involved with other operations to varying degrees, which together is part of a town wide response toward helping the homeless. These do make a difference and still the unmet need gaps remain.
One of the sadnesses of working with the homeless is that despite every good intention and all the good work that goes on, the royal we are a long way from cracking the problem, which is a lot more than merely leading a horse to water. Too often the horse does not drink or if it does a lot more is still needed if the royal we are going to get the horse to a good place. Sadly, there are many who seem to make minuscule progress and too many deaths and too much disempowerment. One need is the lack of affordable accommodation, of which there is a dearth. Another is suitable support e.g. in the area of mental health and substance misuse and finding meaningful activity. While some rely on benefits, others fail to qualify. The issues are many and complex and can feel overwhelming. If there is a trick to continuing in the area of being Good Samaritans, noting many start strong and later fall by the wayside, it is to take a realistic approach, not to be discouraged when there are set backs and to focus on what one can do. As for me, I will critically appraise the situation and keep trying to make a difference, working with who I can to do so, knowing we are able to help many to a small extent and a few to a larger extent. Part of the secret is to work smart and to work together.