Yesterday I went to help the Anesis organisation with their weekly food handout. Dean O’Brien, who informed me about this project, introduced me to the main contributor to the christian charity, Kervin.
When Dean and I arrived there was already about a hundred people standing out under the ring road waiting for Kervin and the team to arrive with the vans full of food. I noticed that there was a huge amount of Romanian women and their children there. Once the tables had all been set up with hot drinks, cakes, family bags, fruit and vegetables, Dean and I got packing bags with sandwiches, a drink, a chocolate bar and a packet of crisps before the queue started to move forward and collect them.
The food has either been donated or was old stock from the local Sainsbury’s across the road. It is great to see that such a big name is doing their bit to help the unfortunate in the city.
In order to really see the kind of people who benefit from this service I went to the frontline as it were and handed out the lunch bags. Not much more than a simple greet I noticed the same Romanian faces coming round again and again; their culture is to take what they can get, then take more. It was no surprise that volunteers were hushing them out the queue to give equal opportunity to the rest. At the same time, it was quite incredible how some people were very picky about what flavoured crisps they had with a big smile on their face. It made me question a little bit how many possibly abuse this service. However, I did see some familiar street sleepers’ faces passing through. It was fascinating to see them and trying to engage a conversation; however, it is clear that they are in such a bad place they take this offering and make the most. This made me think about speaking to Jay; rough sleepers are vulnerable people to try and speak to.
As we started to pack down I started to speak to Kervin about the project. He said that he was a alcohol and drug addict until 2006 when he wanted to turn his life and other’s lives around for the better. His aim was to feed the rough sleepers every Sunday; this started out at 5 or 6 and once word got round, the homeless were even commuting to the flyover every week to get this free meal. Kervin said that the rough sleepers do benefit and in fact one of the volunteers was on the other side of the tables taking the food before reaching out for help. Some rough sleepers will never change as they are ‘in too deep’ but they will congregate in this area for the sense of belonging and community which they don’t have when rough sleeping on their own.
Interestingly, Kervin started to speak about if and when rough sleepers get housing from organisations such as Whitefriars, then they go in with nothing. What makes a house a home is what artefacts are in it, with sentimental value. Therefore, he said that often the drinking and drug taking habits aren’t eradicated because their quality of life is much the same; still unemployed. The life they dreamed they would have with shelter does not match expectations, giving a sense of disappointment. Kervin believes that what he does is to give these people the confidence to believe they matter and they can change their lives.
I have been asked to return again for a longer project.
Yet, the comment about what makes a home is the artefacts really highlights my argument that the rough sleepers make their street their home, by going to the same places and utilising what is there. The edge of a bench as a hook for their bag, etc.
The experience was brilliant, I wasn’t restricted by any CRB checks, just got straight in to help the community.