Note: Go to the update at the end for needs of Street Spirit.
It is no secret that my own family has done well out of charity shops and hand me downs over the years and we have also returned the favour. But one of the ongoing concerns in this whole homeless business I have been involved in recent years is to ensure the needy are kitted out and the greedy (and sadly such do exist) are deterred.
Having been involved in night shelters and soup kitchens and other ad hoc responses over that time, I know the need arise on a regular basis, whereby rough sleepers need clothes (as well as facilities to wash clothes), often quite basic like socks and underwear (for obvious reasons) but also anything else that might attach itself from top to toe. Sometimes we can meet the need and sometimes not. Experience shows handling a comprehensive clothing operation is a bigger deal than those of us where this is a side operation can take on. It is for this reason I tend to point homeless folk in my own Southend area, as well as people would like to give clothes they no longer use to a good home (both of which happen on a regular basis) to charities like HARP and the Storehouse, who do keep or can get hold of suitable clothes items, in order to kit out those in need.
Today I delivered a number of bags to the HARP charity shop (in Hamlet Court Road) which were gratefully received. My understanding is where there is a need in their main centre the clothes will go there in order to kit out the homeless; then if the clothes are suitable they can be sold on; and then if not in the first two categories these be given for recycling. In the last two cases, money raised will support the charity. It is for this reason, when asked, I suggest to folk that is what they should do. Sometimes people want to offload stuff of variable usefulness and my tendency is to politely refuse to accept as it is more hassle than it is worth.
It happened I had been given a car load of assorted clothing that needed to be sorted and passed on. After sifting into piles: for HARP, for recycling and for my own operations, I went to the HARP shop today (and onto the Council recycling facility (Stock Road) Monday). I don’t propose making a habit out of this but at least it was a job worth doing. As for my pile, after sifting and cleaning, it can be used for Street Spirit, where every Saturday among other things going on we can give out socks and underwear (in constant demand) along with sleeping bags (always gratefully received) to the guests that come to us. No doubt, some will be used tonight (we also need rucksacks and sturdy bags so folk can carry their possessions).
There is no smart or simple solution to meeting the plethora of needs among the homeless community residing on our doorsteps, including the need to be suitably clothed, but maybe concerning the above there are some salutary observations as to what can be done.
The question of clothing items crops up occasionally and we thought we at Street Spirit should clarify what it is we can and can’t do.
Our clothing operation deals only with basics. We don’t have the storage and logistic capability to do otherwise although sometimes if we are aware of specific needs we try to meet them. We focus on every day items and outside this normally advise our guests to get kitted out at HARP / Storehouse. But some donations we can use …
We would like clean men’s underwear (boxer shorts) and socks. Bear in mind most homeless people are NOT big so we are talking mediumish. The same goes for ladies underwear (bras and knickers) and socks. We can also use toiletries and sanitary products, although at this time we have enough to meet our needs.
The other thing we get through a lot are sleeping bags – clean medium weight bags would be great. We tend not to give out duvets and blankets as these tend to be quickly discarded.
Sometimes we have calls for rucksacks (and sturdy bags) and lightweight tents, which we might also be able to use.
If you do have other clothing items might we suggest donate these to the HARP charity shop in Hamlet Court Road. They will 1. pass onto the homeless if appropriate and if 2. sellable they will sell in the shop and if 3. not sellable will recycle. In cases 2 and 3 money raised will support their work among the homeless.