Monday, 6 December 2010

Volunteering at Christmas

I haven't posted for a while now as like everyone else with an allotment/gardening blog  there hasn't been a lot going in either. We have had some rain in the last few days so that's cleared the snow away, well almost.

I had to attend a prep meeting in London on Saturday for 'Crisis' who are the wonderful charity that look after the homeless, not just at Christmas but all year round.  The weather as you know has been terrible and I wasn't sure I would make the meeting. However I did manage to get there and was so glad I did.  It was held in a lovely Baptist church in Shaftsbury Avenue and at a guess I would say there were a couple of hundred people there.'Crisis' need and usually get 6,000 volunteers across the country, we were all first timers.

The speakers were all long term volunteers with loads of experience, some with 14 years or more working with the homeless. It was informative, fun and lovely to learn how 'Crisis' came about which was due to the 1960's film  'Cathy come Home' which is a classic now. but it really got started big time in the early 1970's.
I have volunteered to do a shift from  8.30 - 4pm in a day centre in London on Christmas day and again on 27th Dec from 4pm-10pm. 
The meeting highlighted the possible tasks we may be assigned to do, some of which I would never have imagined, and possibly may not like. But we (being myself, my son, his girlfriend and an Australian friend of theirs) all discussed it afterwards and all agreed it didn't put us off and we were looking forward to being useful in making the 'guests' (as they are called ) have a wonderful Christmas, something that we always take for granted.

All sorts of professional people like Doctor's, Nurses, Pharmacists, podiatrists, Opticians,all give their services for free, and more importantly their time over a 2 weeks period leading up to and after Christmas. Not full time of course but the odd few hour shifts here and there.  The 'guest' using the centres might not have  had a medical check-up for years, or had their eyes tested or their teeth checked, so it's a wonderful time for them. They even get to have a haircut or a manicure or perhaps a massage as well.  This is where we come in (possibly) so we are prepared !!! to maybe wash  their hair, or feet (gloves provided) ready for the haircut or podiatrist. as well as the usual serving the food to tables (not cooking as have to hold a qualification) there is also tasks like generally chatting and more importantly LISTENING to guests and maybe crafts and board games, they even have football matches (our day centre is held in a college, so lots of room).

We were warned that sometimes but rarely there are angry clashes between 'guest' and the language may sometimes be a bit 'blue'  but I was prepared for that so that didn't really concern me too much, as these are people that have to be rough and tough to just survive. They are not always treated kindly in their daily lives, so the pampering they get (for those who want it) is sometimes the only kindly touch they may have in a long time. It was heart warming to also to hear that for those with dogs there a special pampering centre for their furry companion to be seen by a vet and be spoilt and well fed whilst the 'guests' were in the day centres.

If anyone is interested in helping support this very worth while charity and it is worthwhile, we shouldn't have homelessness ! and like the speakers said it's not just drug addicts and alcoholics that are homeless.( which is the general assumption) but also  men and women who's marriage or relationships break down, people fleeing abuse, young people leaving foster care at 18,  redundancies leading to a loss of their homes is a re-occuring issue as well.

I hope I haven't sounded like i'm on my soap-box !!!! but I don't apologise for writing this post, as it's a great way to get poeple to think about the issue and maybe help in some way even if it's by  donating unwanted clothes or items or giving money, or even better volunteering.  I will let you know how my shifts go.

Have a lovely week


Corner Gardener Sue said...

Hi Maureen,
You will be as much or more blessed than the clients will be.

Our church serves supper at a local outreach center the third Saturday of the month. There are 3 groups, so we each serve 4 times a year, unless we help one of the other groups.

Our clients know the routine of the center, and are almost always calm. They are not to be served if they are drunk. I've never had to turn anyone away. In fact, anyone can eat there, unless they are on the list of people who have caused problems in the past. No questions are asked when folks show up. I consider some of them friends.

Have a great Christmas!

NotSoAngryRedHead said...

When I was a case manager for a disaster relief nonprofit, I had a homeless client and worked a similar event although it wasn't at Christmas. I also took a number of calls from homeless individuals, and my fellow case managers had homeless clients as well. Working in disaster relief, you work with a lot of homeless people even if their homelessness is temporary, but homelessness prior to a disaster makes the situation a lot worse.

Some of the angry words might not just be from a hard life, or at least, in the US, it wouldn't necessarily be although the hard life part would definitely factor in. There are an unfortunate number of homeless individuals with severe mental disabilities such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. No one can force them into a care facility, and often they are kicked out of places for breaking the rules. However, they're generally chatty if they want to talk to you, and your only option might be to listen. Of course, not everyone is going to have a mental disorder, but the rates are pretty darn high as compared to the general population. Depression is an incredibly common one as you might imagine, and it affects the vast majority of homeless individuals.

At the one event I worked, I gave a lady some information on a local nonprofit who might be able to help with her case since she fit a lot of criteria for many different forms of assistance, and she thanked me left and right and was genuinely excited. A few minutes later, she came back, returned the piece of paper I'd written the information on, and basically said, "Thanks, but no thanks." There were a few more words than that though not many more, and she looked quite annoyed with me. That sort of change in mood/attitude signals something else going on, so I didn't take it personally, took the paper back, and told her she had the right to not accept it.

Vegetable Heaven said...

What a wonderful way to spend your Christmas Day! We will be hosting our elderly parents, 3 of them in their late 80s. It will be like Christmas in the Old Folks Home!

Maureen said...

Hi NotSoAngryRedhead, thanks for the comment and info. Yes I realise there are people that will not want help to get off the streets, as we were told that sometimes they had an even harder time in some of the hostels and accommodation they were offered so would rather be homeless. We were also told that the vast majority had mental health issues and may never settle as they can't take on the responsibility of looking after a home, paying bills etc.

Many years ago I was a volunteer in our local 'Crisis and Support Centre' and although it wasn't specifically for the homeless we did have the odd one or two that popped in for a bite to eat or a chat.
Luckily we will all be working our tasks in pairs with an experienced volunteer, so here's hoping I wont come across too many problems.

Maureen said...

Hi Vegetable Heaven, I hope it's going to be good. If you take a peek at the link there are some little video clips from previous Christmas's and volunteer comments.

Yours is going to be rewarding too. I miss my late mother being with us. So many elderly are neglected by their families at Christmas.
When I first decided to do it I felt a bit guilty at not being with the family (although my younger son is volunteering as well) but they all understand, my husband will be with them so he'll be well looked after, and we will all be together on 26th.

Anna said...

Can not begin to imagine what it would like to be homeless at the best of times, let alone in this dreadful weather when lives must be at risk. I know from many years experience of working with young people what obstacles they face if they find themselves in this dreadful predicament. Thanks for the link Maureen - unable to commit myself to volunteering this year but will certainly see if there is anything else I can do. Look forward to hearing all about your Christmas Day.

Maureen said...

Hi Anna, I like you cannot imagine sitting in a doorway in this dreadful weather. A lot of homeless people have access to night time accommodation but still have to be outside all day. I can't wait to get indoor in the warm if I have only gone to the shops for a couple of hours.
I don't imagine it will be all plain sailing, but judging by what other volunteers said it is very rewarding, and there are entertainers and bands of all kind that also give up their family Christmas, so it should be a lively atmosphere.
I'm glad you are going to have a look at the link.

Pam's English Garden said...

Dear Maureen, Your post warms my heart. How wonderful that you are doing this, especially Christmas Day. After all, it reflects the true meaning of Christmas! I wish I was in England so I could help. Pam x

Maureen said...

Ah Pam what a lovely thing to say ! and yes you are right it does reflect what Christmas is supposed to be all about. I have never felt comfortable about how we all spend Christmas, Myself included ! giving presents we sometimes can't afford (Guilty!) and eating and drinking too much for one day.
It's mind boggling when you see some peoples supermarket trolleys loaded up for what amounts to 2 days until the shop opens again.
I'm not judging anyone else just myself, and so giving up my safe, comfortable Christmas day seems better than giving a donation (for me anyway) I'm not doing it for praise or to boast I just want to help make someone Else's Christmas special. Lot's of the volunteers have given up 14 family Christmas's how amazing is that !

Maureen said...

HI Corner Gardener SUE, your message went into my Spam box, I don't know why. Anyway I have it now and thank you.
That's a lovely thing that your church does and how nice that you feel that some of the clients are like friends. Like your ruling about drink, it's the same with Crisis, they don't allow alcohol, drugs or smoking. But they do have a centre where people with dependency can go at Christmas and be supervised.

Damo said...

Good on you and I hope you have a great time helping out. A really worthwhile cause.

Pam said...

I'm certain the days of volunteering will be rewarding on both sides. Well done you (and all the others).
P x

Maureen said...

DAMO and PAM thank you both for your comments. I am looking forward to being of use in the centre. Not looking forward to being there by 8.15 am though, I've become a bit leisurely in the mornings since retiring.

Jo said...

The best present you can give to these people at Christmas is your time, and you're certainly giving plenty of that. How totally unselfish to be doing something so positive which will make such a difference to many people during the festive season. I'm sure you'll find it very rewarding.

Maureen said...

JO, Thank you for reading and commenting on the post. I am really looking forward to it.

Prospero said...

Wonderful post, Maureen.

As governments ready to implement their final caper(it will not be through taxes, but rather through the insidious apparatus of inflation) - more and more people will be marginalized. Who will help them?

Maureen said...

Hi PROSPERO, thanks for reading and commenting. It's not long now and I will at least be able to do something to help out, even if only for a couple of days.