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180 Degrees and Christmas

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Crisis 3x9Crisis has been around since 1967, which is longer than Hard Rock Café and it has even outlived two of the Beatles. The drivers for its existence will remain as humans are humans after all but the work Crisis does to help single homeless people across the country is worth flagging up.

Rather than bore you to death with facts and figures, I’d like to give you the story of one of the many thousands of people who Crisis helps day in day out. When I was at school, in the very early days of the internet, I used to walk past a lot of rough sleepers around Blackfriars and St Paul’s Cathedral on the way to the tube station. Whilst part of me wanted to do something to help them, it wasn't until my 2nd year at university when I found an advert in the Big Issue looking for volunteers that I finally acted on this intention and turned up with a bunch of close friends and random acquaintances to volunteer one Christmas.

Assuming I would be going to nothing more than a soup kitchen, I was astounded at the scale of the operation and the amount of goodwill behind the efforts. There were doctors, dentists, opticians, reiki practitioners, professional chefs, tailors, hairdressers, beauticians and even civil servants all working together to provide a seamless service to the guests who were served 3 meals a day, received medical treatment, hot showers, fresh clothes, a place to sleep and entertainment including board games, live bands, library and even a cinema with nearly all of this  provided by donors and volunteers. Over the years buildings like London Arena, the Millennium Dome and Olympia Exhibition Hall have been turned into shelters over Christmas

One Christmas, having done 17 now, my memory is getting hazy on the year, I got talking to a guest who came to London from Ireland with his mother to work on a construction site. When his mother passed away and having no other family or friends to turn to, his mental condition deteriorated to the point where he began self-harming with a boiling kettle. He became homeless and slept rough for over 2 decades and as he elaborated on his story I discovered that his ‘patch’ was under Blackfriars Bridge and it was highly likely that he was one of the people whose presence motivated me to start volunteering. The year before I met him, he decided he couldn't take the cold any more and rang Crisis who told him to come to one of their Christmas shelters and within a week they managed to move him into sheltered accommodation thanks to Department for Work and Pensions colleagues who also volunteered and provided housing advice.

This is just one of many examples where civil servants can make a positive difference to individuals and how by even volunteering for a few days a year – which most departments now allow special leave for – it can make a transformational difference to someone’s life.

The scope of tasks a typical general volunteer does over the Open Christmas will vary depending on the requirements of each centre and are more likely to be hands on than advisory, but having volunteered to the point where I am now a key volunteer, and obviously biased, I can say it is one of the most rewarding ‘things to do’ over the Christmas period.

If you are still reading and are interested in helping the homeless either at Christmas or even during the year, please get in touch.

As well as the Christmas programmes, residents are also looking for advice on starting self-employment, especially in the building trade. Many Government services are now only available on-line and so there is also a need for people to come and show them how to access and register for tax etc.

For more information on any of these opportunities feel free to contact Civil Service Local:

... and for those who thought that from the heading this was an article about snowboarding tips my sincere apologies!

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