Crisis at Christmas

The idea is to recruit volunteers, the majority of whom will have had no specific training, to take care of some of the most vulnerable people in London – at one of the most stressful times of the year.

This sounds like a tall order. Yet for over 40 years this is how the charity Crisis, the national charity for single homeless people has been running the largest volunteer led event in the UK. I have been giving up some of my time during the Christmas period to be one the 8,000 people to assist at one of nine temporary shelters across London, setup in schools, warehouses and unused office blocks with most of the work, equipment, food and clothing donated by companies and individuals. The Centre’s welcome around 3,000 guests between 23rd to 30th December.

Different Centre’s across London meet different needs and many provide respite for rough sleepers and people with specific needs, such as women at risk and those with dependency issues. Most of these Centre’s offer a full range of learning opportunities, activities, entertainment and essential services.

Individuals can sign up for different roles such as General Volunteer or join one of the Service, Logistics or Activities teams. If you have relevant skills and experience in specialist areas Crisis really need your help. You don’t need any qualifications or experience to be a General Volunteer just your time of two shifts.

As a volunteer we’re there to help with whatever needs doing; for example, welcoming guests through the door and assisting with activities around the Centre. The range of tasks are diverse; from helping in the kitchen, cooking a meal for hundreds of people, serving teas and coffees, sorting bedding, cleaning the showers and toilets to being an assistant to the vet, washing dogs before they go in to see them or keeping the place clean and tidy. But, and perhaps most importantly, taking time to talk to the guests. There’s always a lot to do. It’s often tiring work but at the same time, very rewarding. You meet a load of great new people, and get to be a part of something that really embodies the Christmas spirit.

I’ve been a General Volunteer for five years now escaping the last minute Christmas shopping with my partner, re-runs of the same films and shows on TV to spend time with some of the most interesting people you’ll ever meet. I found Crisis through personal experiences with homelessness and for me the feeling of being on your own at Christmas is particularly lonely, something no one should have to experience, which is why either as a guest or a volunteer, coming together for one week, your joining a huge family of people to have a great time at Christmas.

We label them as ‘homeless’, but they are people like you or I, who have experienced circumstances which have led them to find themselves in this situation. So it’s a refreshing change, for people who are habitually downtrodden and ignored are welcomed as ‘guests’ to be pampered and looked after by those more fortunate and hopefully many also receive the advice they need to get back on track in the new year.

In my time as a volunteer I have been shocked at how many ex-serviceman I’ve met, from the older veterans to recent leavers. Services have greatly improved over the years but it is estimated that about 10% of rough sleepers are of ex military background.

So if you feel like doing something different this Christmas, find that good excuse to not see the in-laws or maybe escape from the confines of Marham to have a worthy place to be this Christmas, please check out the ‘Crisis at Christmas’ website, watch the videos, find out more information and sign up as a volunteer or contact myself.

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