One of the heart rendering reports to come my way yesterday came under the title: “The homeless man who went from sleeping rough to feeding others”. It was about a man who because of life’s circumstances found himself homeless for a period and having to survive on the street, including scrimping and scrounging for food. After he got housed again, he used his experience and started a charity of which the main purpose was to gather up leftover food (from shops etc.) and distributing to various homeless outlets.
It struck me as a great idea and got me thinking how it could happen in my own neck of the woods and be rolled out nationwide. Some may stop me here and say it is happening, to which I respond – yes it is and it is all too hit and miss, not at all efficient and for every trick we pick up we lose several more. There were at least two examples at the weekend concerning Ferndale Night Shelter and Street Spirit, (Soup Kitchen), that I am involved with, where people offered us leftover food (rather than it going to waste) and while we did our best to accommodate we were only part successful, and moreover, I daresay there would have been a lot of perfectly good food from supermarkets etc. that was dumped as per usual.
I may be getting grumpy in my dotage and this out of frustration, just as I am with well meaning folk who land bags of old clothes on us that might help the homeless which after collecting, transporting, sifting, storing, and all the disruption that causes, ends of either in rubbish dumps or at a charity shop to do with whatever they will. I’m not having a go but … I remember when we got married the caterers throwing out all the lovely leftover food at the end of the reception and me getting horrified. With so much need, not just rough sleepers but the sort of folk who use food banks, it seems criminal to throw out perfectly good stuff when common sense compassion says this needs to be distributed to those in need.
Having got this off my chest, where do we go from here? Firstly there needs to be a reality check. At the night shelter on Friday we had only seven overnight guests, and they were treated well, whereas there were many more who were rough sleeping, who might have benefited. At the soup kitchen Saturday, around twenty turned up (and not all rough sleepers), and they also were treated well, whereas there were many more who could have benefited that didn’t. When it comes to taking “stuff” at short notice, while we try to get the logistics right and be flexible, we are more often than not not all that well placed to do so, and having to learn to say “no”.
Which is why I rather like what Mark Harvey is trying to do, besides his showing admirable community spirit. As I say, it is happening, even here to an extent in sunny Southend, but nowhere near smartly enough. Homelessness is a big issue. The main challenges for we volunteers trying to plug the gaps are not so much around providing proper support and finding suitable accommodation, which too often are beyond our capabilities, but in doing what we do and doing it well. The matter of getting stuff (food and clothes etc.) to them who need it remains one of our major challenges.