Yesterday was my last and final shift for Crisis At Christmas. It’s been the most amazing and surprisingly fun experience, completely different to what I had imagined. It might seem a little weird to describe it as fun, why would it be fun to help look after one of societies most disadvantaged group of people, but it was fun for many reasons and not just for the volunteers, the guests also came to enjoy themselves. Considering what the guests have experienced and having to live through right now, I found them some of the friendliest group of people I’ve worked with in a long while. I was touched by the fellow volunteers, never have I worked with such a mix of like-minded individuals, not one ego, bad word or any type of friction all week, even when people have been working long and constantly busy days. I felt I was in some kind of socialist utopian experiment. A place where people of all different backgrounds, age, class, ethnicities just got on and looked out for one another. A place where money didn’t exist or have any purpose. Where everyone says hello, opens doors for you, bring you cups of tea and shares their food with you. Where everyone makes time to sit and chat with the guests, really listen to their stories and show genuine respect and a real hand of friendship to all. I have to admit one of my concerns before I started was I thought I had no idea how to speak to the guests, I really didn’t want to come across as some kind of patronising do-gooder, but I think once in that environment we were all so far from that. The fact me and none of my fellow first year volunteers had any kind of training on how to work in this environment made it all more amazing that it worked so seamlessly. The whole thing is so well-managed and well structured, they’ve thought of every step for both guests and volunteers, everything functions seamlessly, due to the long-standing commitment by the regular volunteers and the trust they show in their new ones.
It’s sad to think that the centre is now closed, I’ve spent much of today thinking about the guests I met over the last week, wondering what they are up to now. I get to go back to my warm house, and it makes me feel rather guilty. Although the week was fun and we were encouraged to be happy and welcoming to the guest, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of sadness inside that the people using the centre are in this situation, that it’s got to the point that they need the services of Crisis in the first place. The thing that struck me the most about the centre’s guests was the appreciation by them of the volunteers just treating them like humans. Such a simple thing, something everyone can do without much effort, yet what they experience in the outside world is so different, life on the street is beyond horrid and bordering barbaric. What does it say about our society that a man can sleep on the street and nothing is done. It’s an absolute disgrace, and it’s perhaps even more of a disgrace that certain people treat them as vermin on top of that. One thing everyone could try to do is not ignore a fellow human. If someone is begging for food chances are they are very hungry, buy them a bloody sandwich if you are not comfortable giving them money. Or just ask them if they are ok. Alert the right services that you have seen a rough sleeper. Street Link has an app you can download on your phone and report rough sleepers. One thing you really shouldn’t do is just ignore them.
As much as homelessness upsets and angers me, I have to admit one of my reasons for volunteering this year for Crisis was purely selfish. I just wanted to forget about Christmas. Since my mum died Christmas is empty and only reminds me that I miss her, so the chance to ignore it was much appreciated. This was my first proper experience of volunteering, and I really enjoyed it, both for what I could do for others and what I got from it (it was by no way a one way street). When people asked me what I was doing for christmas their response tended to be ‘oh how noble of you giving up your Christmas to help others’, I found that rather annoying and patronising, it also made me feel a bit of a phony. But because of Crisis I really enjoyed Christmas Day this year, I was so busy all day mostly making cups of tea for the guests, that I didn’t think of my mum once nor feel sad, so for that I will always be grateful and just glad I could do something small in return for others. I look forward very much to next year, I will most definitely be back, and for many more years to come I suspect.