Some folk will know of my involvement with Street Spirit, one of the soup kitchens to start up in recent years to serve Southend’s growing homeless population, which happens to be a weekly activity and one that I am generally involved in. All who help and volunteer, together with various contributions, are appreciated. It happened, because of illness and holiday, I was unable to attend for 6 weeks but I was able to resume once again last Saturday and again last night.
Last week it was fairly quiet but it was good to be welcomed back and catch up. This week we had twice the number of last week (I am not a good counter but as a guesstimate we served around 60). While I help where I can, I tend to not get involved with our main activity, serving the guests food, where we have a super team doing this. I focus on interacting with volunteers and guests. I couldn’t help noticing that while there were some new faces (there always is) we have known some of our guests for 2-3 years and more, and while a few are housed, most aren’t, sleeping in tents, doorways, car parks, friends sofas and wherever they can. I couldn’t help noting the plethora of needs and not one drunk person in sight.
As I contemplate the folk I spoke with last night, sometimes a brief greeting and in 2-3 cases a lengthy conversation, I see lots of faces but not too many names to match. In passing, I gave out 4 sleeping bags and quite a few pairs of socks and some boxers. Early in the day, visiting Southend Pride, I spoke with a transgender lady, who should great empathy with the homeless – having been there herself and wanting to do something to help, which I encouraged. Before leaving home, I was called by an anxious mum trying to find out more about her wayward son – sadly he wasn’t there last night. Then there was the mid thirtyish guy who had been in prison many years, sleeping in tent and (to his credit) trying to get back on his feet, and discussing his children’s needs (where had the years gone without dad). Then there was a guy, polite but with anger issues, wanting to sort out some guy that had wronged him but who we may have helped to calm down. Then there were a number of Eastern Europeans, including a couple I have known three years who we discussed the welfare of their newish grandson, and the rest we had a cheery exchange including discussing one of their group I have known 10 years, now in rehab. Then there were two young girls, who we had been encouraging to get further education – one announced she was newly pregnant and the other who I recall had been a handful when she turned up at our night shelter a few months back, but showing amazing sensitivity and helpfulness. Then there was a guy who three years ago I had signed up for our night shelter but, sadly, still on the streets yet still civil. And there are a number more, who it may be best not share here, to protect their identity …
Like all the soup kitchens, we do what we do, as best we can, realizing while showing practical kindness is always significantly needful, it seems to be hardly enough. While some, maybe most, have been instrumental in finding themselves in the situation they are in, I doubt if many, or even any, want to be on the streets and are victims of a broken system where means of escape are limited. Many are where we could be … but for the grace of God. For me, knowing I can make a difference is what keeps me going. There is so much more that could be and needs doing – but we do what we do.