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Crisis at Christmas

Crisis at Christmas

As part of my search for a new career, I have been investigating a variety of options. I have spent Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day volunteering with the homeless charity Crisis.
I volunteered to help the Stratford center welcome up to 170 homeless people a day. Our aim was to allow them to have the Christmas experience that we all want at this time of year: be in a warm place, have a good meal, be with kind people and be safe.
These people wouldn’t normally have any of the above if it wasn’t for Crisis.
There are about 100 volunteers everyday at the center helping with things ranging from cleaning toilets, to serving food, and from helping someone get some warm clothes to just sitting down with them for a chat, which is something that some of them haven’t had in ages: someone who is willing to listen.
It is heartbreaking to see so many people without a decent home. Some of them do have a roof over their heads – a squat, or a friend’s couch, or a hostel – but it isn’t a proper home. And some of them actually have nothing. Others do have a place of their own, but because they were homeless in previous years, they come back each Christmas because they consider Crisis as their family, or they simply have no one else to spend Christmas with. But for those that really have nothing, the center only works during the day: it closes at night as it hasn’t got any facilities for anyone to sleep over. So every evening, at 9pm, we must actually tell some of these people that they have to leave this warm place and go out in the freezing cold for the whole night.
The whole experience is humbling. These people are made of the toughest stuff you can think of. Yet when you speak to them, you realise that they are so fragile and vulnerable it’s almost unbearable.
I couldn’t do it. No matter how many layers I have on my back, I would not be able to spend a night in the London streets in the middle of winter. It is the most demoralising thing I have ever come across while living in London. I just wouldn’t survive.
I have come to look at homeless people with totally new eyes. They are not an inconvenience we must step over when leaving the supermarket, or a mass of clothings and items randomly arranged on a street corner, and which just happens to be there when we pass by. They are human beings who have been let down by society. They are people who are unable to find a place to fit in, because they can no longer fit in the expensive requirements that we need them to have in order for us to feel safe.
After 3 days at the Stratford center, I reached a point where the line was blurred between the volunteers and the homeless guests. If it wasn’t for our badges, sometimes, I woulnd’t know which is which.
At the end of my last day, Boxing Day, we were informed that we had served 220 meals. That’s way more than we expected. It was both wonderful to know that we had helped all those people get food in a warm and friendly place, but also really sad to realise that there were so many of them out in the street who needed our help.
In a city like London, in a modern world like ours, how can this sort of thing still exist?

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