By Katy Edelsten
A Very Merry Crisismas
Christmas is a funny old time of year. A fuzzy, warm and festive sort of time.
A celebration of family and friends and fun, that also bluntly highlights those who aren’t around and emphasizes the fun that isn’t actually being had. I’ve been dreading this Christmas for about 363 days.
My favourite person in the world, my super duper Grandma, passed away last Christmas. Like everything she ever did, it was a very spontaneous surprise exit. Dada! Bam! Zip! Gone!
We’ve spent every year forever ever ever at my Grandmas so I knew I had to do something a bit different this year to distract myself.
So when I found myself on the third tedious and slow day of re-organising my room/general sorting/half watching Love Actually for the bazillionth time, I had a *revolutionary brainwave* and got busy organising some volunteer work. I rang all the places where my parents live and got a lot training and induction day chat. Then I remembered about all the people on my facebook feed who have political opinions, go to lots of festivals and volunteer for Crisis at Christmas.
Crisis in the UK National Charity for single homeless people. As well as education, employment, housing and other services, Crisis at Christmas has been giving warmth, food, company and services to homeless people for over 40 years. London is estimated to have about 55% of the UK’s homeless people, something around the 5,000 figure.
Delaying Christmas as much as possible, I was still in London pretending to do stuff.
So, off to Crisis I went.
You can stop actually reading right now and just click the link and do it because it was the best thing I’ve done in a long long long time and I really think everyone should do this. Right now.
You can also donate – it costs £22.29 to reserve a place for one homeless person at Christmas, this gives access to three hot meals, somewhere safe to sleep, showers, healthcare, clean clothes, companionship and expert advice on potentially life-changing issues.
The Long Version.
I signed up, at about 1am, for a shift the next day. Turns out there’s new spaces available everyday so it’s good to keep checking. They want 3 ideally and once you have your badge you can always pop back because lots of people don’t turn up. In fact, over 1/3 of the volunteers on my shift didn’t turn up which is pretty horrible to hear. Shifts are 7-8 hours long and you’ll be paired with a friendly partner for every task.
Honestly once you’ve done about half an hour you will want to do at least 3 whole shifts. Our Key Worker signed up for 3 shifts 12 years ago, stayed for 7. And then never left. I’m not the least bit surprised.
At the day centre I went to, homeless people (guests) come from 9am – 9pm and the volunteers make and serve breakfast, lunch and dinner in donated locations such as schools. Services including the dentist, doctor, manicurist, podiatrist, optician and hairdresser were all on site; but arts and crafts, sports, IT lessons and even karaoke were on too. Karaoke was full basically all day.
My first mega eye-opener was that homelessness doesn’t just mean those who sleep on the streets, but it encompasses a whole load of tricky sleeping situations and different personal challenges. Guests arrived throughout the day and Crisis run a bus to drop them off around London after the centres shut, and we managed to get 57 of the guests referred into hostels for the night.
There wasn’t much info online, and between us volunteers we all discussed how nervous we felt before we started, so I think it’s of use to know some typical tasks. Roles included; running the reception desk where guests ‘check-in’ (typically chatting and filling in an identity form if they are happy to do that), helping the less able to get about and get access to the services and meals, and entertaining the canteen queue – which was basically just being very jolly, making pals and turning down marriage proposals. Obviously there was also a fair amount of cleaning, mopping and general jobs – including ‘Guarding the Stairs’ which Amelia from Essex and I were really very good at – if SCA Security need any tips I’m a pro now.
I also did a lot of sitting, chatting and eating with guests; listened to their stories, did puzzle books and crosswords (got well and truly beaten) and had a right old laugh with a bunch of honest and fun folk.
There were too many moments that struck me, but a particularly poignant part was a lovely gentleman who was concerned that the tailor from last year wasn’t around to help him mend his clothes. Despite the fact the centre was giving out new clothes, this kind soul just wanted to patch up the ones he already had.
The guys that run Crisis are actually walking angels. At SCA we talk about solving problems endlessly, but they are solving an actual massive problem head on, with smiles and energy a plenty.
So if you’re feeling festive (or even a little under), and have a spare second or pound please go do your bit for the world and share the Christmas love and fuzziness. It really got me in the Christmas spirit anyway.
Crisis for Christmas Centres are open until the 29th or 30th dependant.