A homeless response in a snowy week

I write on a pleasant day and except for the forlorn remains of a once proud snowman in my neighbour’s garden there is little evidence of the snow that featured heavily in this past week. This and the drop in temperature did have a bearing on homelessness and how best to help those who are sleeping rough.

While all sorts of activities had to be shut down, giving some an unexpected break from their routine responsibilities, the one thing that ought not be stopped for those with a semblance of compassion is taking care of the more vulnerable members of society, including the homeless, and indeed more was needed doing given the need, which in the worst cases could mean people dying on the streets because of the cold, and which sadly did happen in places.

This time last week the ether was full of “what are we going to help the homeless?” given the snow was beginning to fall and temperatures drop. In my small world there were not one but two propositions put forward. One of them was to open up a Council conference centre (Tickfield), which is what happened, which I have discussed in: “A new homeless night shelter for Southend”. It was a magnificent response, and a success, operating for 7 nights (7-7) and accommodating up to 20 homeless people each night.

While this was happening, the Church Winter Night Shelter (CWNS) program continued and each night churches were filled to maximum capacity with homeless guests being given shelter. On one occasion, someone who was shivering outside was brought in during the early hours, and this was not untypical of the needs of the people being helped.  At the same time, the soup kitchens continued to operate and were all kept busy, and with two new ones starting up and an existing one laying on an extra session, and there were other responses too, e.g. 57 West and the Salvation Army, and of course the two big players: the Council and HARP, did play their part.

In my observing of people who help, I am of the view few if any do so with completely pure motives and often have agendas, hang ups, perspectives, prejudices, misunderstanding etc., often not fully realized. But what happened during the week was that many people went out of their way to put the needs of others first and help, and with minimal fuss. They came from all walks of life, and wide ranging religious, political and ideological views, and were not always otherwise natural allies. While not all offers could be taken up, many people made assorted contributions and sacrifices, united in the cause of helping the homeless survive with dignity during this spell of cold weather. It was touching to see it all coming together.

One commented that what he observed in terms of human kindness has restored his faith in humanity. It showed what could be done, demonstrating that where there is a will there is a way. The question is begged though: what now? While the extra cold weather looks to be ending, the homeless need hasn’t. The emergency shelter has ended and the CWNS program ends later in the month. As I write it continues to operate at maximum capacity, with some turned away. The harsh fact is there remains a big unmet homeless related need.

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