The sad reality is that there are good many (and any is too many) people sleeping rough in my town (and no doubt in towns of similar sizes up and down the land). This has been more evident these past two weeks with the ending of Church Winter Night Shelters. That is bad news. The good news is there are people who care, want to help and do help. And one has to ask – what is it I can do to help?
This is not meant to make folk feel guilty, for one of the hard lessons that needs to be learned is to accept our limitations. Many through circumstances, including other commitments, can only do a little, even if it is merely to recognize those who unfortunate enough to be homeless as fellow human beings. But I have little time for those who pretend there is no problem or if they see a problem then turn their backs on the those who need our help, for that would be breaking the golden rule to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Part of my role as a homeless activist is to look at the big picture, encourage people who do care to work together, identify the gaps and help to fill them. Already in my town there are many services for rough sleepers (e.g. as identified in the Rough Sleeper leaflet – see here) but there are gaps and some of these are already being filled by voluntary groups. When it comes to accommodation, supporting people and substance misuse, HARP, Family Mosaic and STARS are the organizations that can help. Big gaps remain, evidenced by the number needing accommodation, support and help with addictions.
One of the organizations that help fill some of those gaps is Street Spirit (check here for our Facebook page) which I happen to chair. We typically go out every Saturday at 7pm meeting in Clarence Road car park, operating (for want of a better word) a soup kitchen. We only fill some gaps; we don’t provide accommodation; we don’t provide support outside of basic practical help and empathy; we don’t solve peoples’ problems when it comes to substance misuse and we don’t even offer advice (although we do listen to people stories and provide helpful, empathetic responses). But we do something and regular feedback from our guests (typically 30-40 in number) suggests that this something is significant.
Often people ask how can I help? Here are some suggestions (do contact us if you want to help, make a suggestion or know more):
- While we have 2000 following us on Facebook, the number of those who help as volunteers is a small percentage. We are keen to sign up new volunteers, typically for our Saturday operation.
- We accept financial donations (after all food etc, needs to be paid for) and material help. Such practical help is good but best to check with us first so things don’t go to waste. Clothes is good too but we tend to deal only with every day needs like socks and underwear (if people have other clothes to donate we suggest the HARP charity shop in Hamlet Court Road). We are always getting through sleeping bags – needed for the people are sleeping rough.
The motto of Street Spirit is “caring for the homeless and vulnerable”. We are a mixed bunch, attracting support from all sections of society and we are not political or religious based. We don’t always get it right and could be smarter; we know some who come to us are freeloaders and we do not always separate the needy from the greedy. But we are doing something to make a difference. I have told folk my “surgery” hours are 7-8pm every Saturday night while Street Spirit operates, and it has become a highlight of my week. No-one has a monopoly on kindness and while rough sleepers need a lot more, showing kindness is a good place to begin.