The third year in supporting this wonderful charity, and what a change this Christmas. I can’t imagine why.
In previous years I have supported the volunteers on the ground by volunteering in the transport department and being minibus (MIDAS) trained, it was the natural thing to help move our guests from their day locations to their evening locations.
In pre-COVID years, Crisis helped around 2000 homeless people in Christmas week. Asking colleges, schools and churches to donate the use of their sites in support the charity’s efforts, Crisis feed, entertain, train, and help the homeless in getting things like permanent accommodation and jobs as well as a simple haircut, health check-up or dental work.
I guess we could wrap that up in a single word, they give a glimmer of ‘Hope’.
The years prior to 2020, I’d take evening shifts, 3pm til midnight as that’s when these 2000 people need moving around the capital – each day I’d get back to Verwood around 3am then leave again at midday to get to our derelict warehouse (donated of course), in Bermondsey.
Each shift, 7am to 3pm and 3pm till midnight, would have around 40 drivers and 20 navigators controlling 110 donated vehicles. These vehicles could be anything from small cars to large Luton vans, minibuses to chiller vans, all donated again by Rabbit Hire, schools, colleges and universities. Of course, as drivers, we spend the week before picking these up and the week after cleaning them and dropping them back.
It’s a major operation and a great thing to do.
But now, in 2020, we have a pandemic, so the moving of people is simply too much of a risk. Everything has been scaled down dramatically.
At the start of the pandemic, in London (and with the demise of the hospitality industry), hotels, particularly the chain Best Western, opened their doors to the homeless with funding from local government.
Crisis, therefore, used this business-model to re-invent Crisis at Christmas. With 4 hotels opening their doors for 14 days, and with them fully staffing the hotels, welcoming the homeless guests was a total success.
Feedback was that our guests were just that, guests, humans, not the homeless.
From a transport point of view, our numbers were way down, and I, as with the other drivers, were invited as we’d done it all before. The usual 40 were down to just 9 per shift, and there was only 1 shift, 9am to 5pm. The vehicle numbers down from 110, to 30.
This was simply because all of our guests were, very sensibly, self-contained. They all had there own room, they’re were all feed three times per day and all the medical and social help was on-hand 24 hours per day.
So what did we do? Twice per day, from our warehouse now in Poplar, we delivered food and drink, donated bottled water, crisps, chocolate and the ever popular Pot Noodles.
We drove doctors and nurses to the hotels, delivered Crisis’s mobile libraries, medical equipment and computers. We shifted their rubbish, cleaned up their mess and generally supported the on-site teams.
So for 5 days over Christmas Day, New Years Eve and New Years Day, and more, I and others gave back. We gave our time, our patience and our sweat to others who deserve a leg up, or just a chat.
It was very very different this year, slicker some would say.
The hotels, who can be very, very proud of themselves are:
Best Western Queens Crystal Palace
Best Western Plus Croydon
Staycity Aparthotels Greenwich
The Good Hotel Docklands
Their management and staff have not only done Crisis proud with the way they have treated their homeless guests by showing non-judgemental respect, dignity and humility, but also have shown that care for your fellow man is alive and kicking, maybe even thriving in these tough times.
And for me, it says that humans after all, are very good things indeed.
Driving back each day, buzzing in seeing that, is a very, very good feeling to carry with you. Your soul fills with pride and hope.
Without doubt I’ll be there.