Where do we start?
I guess we begin with wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.
Then, as it’s this time of year we move onto family, the annual gathering over the festive period of those closest to you, the true, Humanist view of what it’s all about and what we should be celebrating.
But what if? What if you have no family?
What if you have nothing?
What if you are thrust into this situation?
Well, this time of year you could be alone and cold and on the streets of some great city being ignore, stepped over and not thought about for one second.
Christmas is traditionally for giving and receiving of gifts (mainly in my view, the giving), but the way society has it these days, that means small shiny or big twinkly things. 8 year old with £1000 iPhones.
But what about love? What if we gave love, time, the time to sit and talk, to understand, to shake someone’s hand and tell them that, with their own effort and others compassion and support, everything will be alright.
My uncle Jeff says that all people need is to be told that everything is going to be alright. I agree.
Alas though, we don’t live in that type of utopian world, or at least, the majority of us don’t.
Shame on us I say.
Homelessness, right here, right now, in this 5th richest country is unacceptable. Food banks are unacceptable, starving children and beaten woman are both unacceptable.
282,000 people are homeless currently, 23,000 on the streets, 68,000 are sofa surfing.
And here’s the nub with homelessness, we are all, ALL OF US, just two missed wages away from being on the streets.
Two missed gas bills, we’re are cold, two missed trips to Sainsbury’s, we are hungry, two missed rents we are homeless.
Now here’s my take on homelessness, why it’s important to me.
When I divorced I had nothing, no money, no home, little hope. To maintain the family home, (that I didn’t live in but my kids did), I pumped all the cash I earned into the family pot. Sold a bike? In the pot the cash goes, a watch, a printer, everything, into the pot.
That left me with zilch, except of course my pride.
I am lucky, I have lifelong earned skills, so, without question, I’d build myself up again, I’d reset my life, reboot it, sweep away the need for the latest and greatest shiny thing and with help I’d be able to maintain my sense of humanity.
And that’s where the love comes in.
My parents gave me a bed and food, tick. My friends gave me camaraderie and purpose, tick. Royal Bournemouth Hospital gave me money each week, it also gave me a view into the lives of others less fortunate, it showed my the awful and the wonderful side of life, tick. The Girl Bob gave me love, tick. And my dog, Daisy gave me something to care for, tick.
Without these things, I’d be sleeping in a doorway somewhere, or, as an old friend of mine did, I could have been a death in a doorway somewhere.
With help, I’d turn a miserable part of my wonderful life around. It’s worked, the big plan worked. I’m lucky, others aren’t so fortunate.
But now, for me it’s time to hold that hand of a stranger, to take the time to talk to them, to sympathise and empathise, to make them feel human and wanted for a short time, just as my parents, friends, and the Girl Bob had with me.
To tell them that it will be ok.
As I’m on my own this year, the money I’d normally spend on cards and presents has been redirected to be used on fuel.
Fuel to allow me to do the 5 hours round trip to Bermondsey for 10 days to help out at Crisis, the homeless charity.
After every day I’ll write this blog, tell the world about what I’m seeing, who I’ve met, and anything else that may, just may, help people understand what the homeless, the ordinary people that have become homeless, are all about.
Yesterday was the first day. I’m part of the transport department along with around fifty other volunteers.
Our base is a disused warehouse, quite literally derelict. Crisis has fed power to it, power to keep the food chilled, to keep us lit and warm. To keep us topped up with coffee.
There are 6 residential centres and 6 drop in centres in London this year. The homeless can look for shelter there and those lucky enough to have a bed for the week will be feed and pampered. Hairdressers donate their time, podiatrists do the same, as do dental professionals and medical staff.
And us, us drivers transport them when needed.
Yesterday was a setup day. That means that 20 of us picked up the remaining 40 vehicles (105 in total have been donated from the likes of Toyota, Rabbit Hire, schools, colleges and universities).
The vehicles range from small cars and people carriers to Luton vans, and my expertise, minibuses. There is also a mobile dentist truck and chiller vans which will transport the food to 2500 homeless guests three times a day for the week.
Add to the Crisis pot volunteers on the streets talking to the homeless about their ailments and arranging them to be seen by the medical team, and trained staff at the centres attempting to establish a foothold in long-term accommodation and employment, we can begin to believe that the gift of love is quite possibly here after all.
To say I’m looking forward to it is the understatement to end all understatements.
If you get time, please read and share the blog.