Christmas for me was spent at Crisis the homeless organisation and this is my report. Crisis opened ten centres in London welcoming homeless and ex-homeless guests in from the cold for warmth, comfort and the access to vital services.
The centres were open for nine days from 22 – 30 December, offering food, company and feel-good services such as hairdressing and massage, entertainment and fun, along with crucial advice and health services.
Some 4,000 homeless people were expected to converge on the centres over the holiday period.
In addition there were also services running on Christmas Day and Boxing Day in Newcastle, and on Christmas Day in Edinburgh, the first time that Crisis at Christmas had come to the city.
All of the centres were run and managed by volunteers who donated their time, funds, equipment and expertise. More than 9,000 people took part, ranging from specialist volunteers such as dentists, doctors, podiatrists and hairdressers, to general volunteers who provided vital companionship and helped homeless guests feel welcome and at home.
As I have made it clear in many a post on this blog in the past, that I have moved and been apart of the homeless community in Britain for over 30 years, particularly on the London street scene.
Most of my most recent Christmas’s have been spent in the company of homeless or former homeless people in London who are and have become very close friends, such bounds of affection and respect, that not even the hands of time would be able to break in any hurry if at all.
Like last year I chose the Bermondsey centre which is in South London, about a six mile bike ride each morning from my home in Canning Town to the City of London Academy and the clue is in the name, this school has close links with the city and it’s famous square mile, the financial wild west; however this should not been seen as a reflection on the Academy its staff or pupils who go all out to raise money for Crisis during the year.
I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute and say thanks to the many volunteers, who give up their Christmas to man the ten centre’s and of course it is very important to thank them all, which is a great example of real human compassion. The volunteers come as you can imagine from all walks of life, lawyers, solicitors and many young people, even the homeless or formerly homeless step up to the line to become a volunteer and help out during the week. I met a wonderful young man who is currently a serving captain in the Royal Marines, and I had a great chat with him. It’s worthwhile mentioning that a great many of the volunteers come back year after year. The whole operation is run with professional dedication and what little trouble there is, is always swiftly resolved by the volunteers. It is indeed unfortunate that there are one or two incidents that temporarily spoil the week and almost always involves alcohol, which is barred from the centers and no one should really be admitted under the influence, but unfortunately they do slip through, and before we condemn we would do well to remember that most and for one reasons or another have become and in many respects are broken people, struggling to survive in what is a harsh world of vulnerability and homelessness.
Crisis has everything covered and checked, a bus shuttle service is made available for guests throughout London and guests are taken to the centres, on arrival in the morning they are greeted by very cheerful volunteers, the canteen service offers tea, coffee and a full breakfast with cereal and fruit, always a fantastic cooked lunch and a three course meal in the evening. Christmas day and everyone has a complete traditional diner with all the trimmings, nothing is spared and guests are encouraged to tuck into as much or as little as they like. A fully trained chef is running the kitchen with a full complement of voluntary staff behind the scenes in each centre, they do such a fantastic job, and as soon as one meal is served and over, they are busy preparing the next, at my centre the chef kept coming over to my table to get feedback and ideas about how the food could be improved, as if we knew?
For the last two years I have enjoyed the Crisis Christmas with a group of friends who have sat at the same table throughout the proceedings and complete on-goings, this table has acquired a reputation for a joyful and a very cheery sparkle, led by a wonderful young 81 year old man who brought home to us all the real meaning of Christmas. Such laughter I can tell you almost burst my sides, but what a great way to spend Christmas and in the company of real friends.