I’ve been meaning to write this post for a couple of months- ever since I started a new volunteering position. I’m working for a charity which supports, houses and rehabilitates people who are either currently sleeping rough, or who have done in the past and are therefore at risk of doing so again.
It’s a really worth-while place to give my time up to, and god has it made me appreciate my flat this winter.. just thinking about sleeping out on the streets when the weather is so terrible and the temperature goes down to freezing is painful; the suffering people endure is completely unimaginable.
I started volunteering there in November, and did a couple of shifts in December before breaking for Christmas, and then started back on the second week in Jan; so I’m still kinda learning the ropes, and working out all the different aspects of the role. And there are a lot of different aspects to the role.
Most of the people I work with are support workers, which are basically Social Workers without the legal rights and responsibilities; a good thing because Social Workers have to make horrendous decisions such as when to split a family up or take kids away from their mum, and when to Section people.
The support workers I work with have case loads, and work with clients to get them off the street and into shelters and accommodation, and then ultimately to try to find them permanent accommodation, jobs and ways to make their lives better and their futures more certain. It’s a challenging job, and can be hugely stressful at times, as the clients are generally quite chaotic, and have a range of differing and complicated issues.
Many have drug and alcohol addictions, past convictions and complex histories and backgrounds. Some are old, some are terrifyingly young, and most don’t have too many support networks or reliable significant others who can pick up the slack when we have to step away.
It can be heartbreaking to watch somebody fall back off the rails after a period of good progress, or miss out on an opportunity simply because they couldn’t pull it all together long enough to make it to a meeting or an appointment on time.
Many others are so caught in a routine of instability and living from day to day that when help comes calling they simply cannot engage with it meaningfully enough to make use of it.. it can take a monumental strength of will to break out of negative cycles, and destructive habits; and the help and support we provide is sometimes woefully inadequate.
But, we do what we can, and we remain optimistic.
Just because the system in place isn’t perfect doesn’t mean you stop trying altogether. The feeling that comes with helping somebody off the streets, or into a new home or job position is incredible; it can’t be beaten.
Moreover, it is an injustice of the most monumental kind that, in this day and age, so many people are forced to risk their lives every night and sleep rough on the streets. It makes me feel good to think I am trying to right some of those injustices with each shift I work.
However, on top of that, I have a personal reason to feel deeply about this position, and the people I am working with. The statistics I have found, from “the homelessness hub” state that 35% of homeless people suffer with a mental illness of some kind, and more specifically 75% of all women on the streets.
Those statistics are terrifying. Severe mental illness is a killer to live with, and it can be like living in another world itself- when I try to imagine going through what I went through, but with the added stress and terror of sleeping rough and having absolutely no stability or support whatsoever, it chills me to the bones.
Going through psychosis, or having paranoid delusions- whilst being out and about own your own late at night.. I can’t see how anybody could recover at all in the environment. I can’t see how anybody could survive at all, or get by at all from day to day in those conditions. It would be like being trapped in some bizarre nether world, a living nightmare where there was absolutely nothing you could do for respite, and nowhere you could go for real comfort or release.
I get really upset thinking about it.. I think because I know the hell I have been through, and know that if I had had to go through that, whilst living rough, I don’t think I’d be sitting here today to write this. It is unimaginable, and so bitterly bitterly unfair that this is the life some people are confined to.
I have really learnt to count my blessings, over the last couple of months, and give thanks for that fact that I have a flat, and I have friends and family around me. I have been through the ringer, but had a few more things gone wrong- had the people closest to me decided not to support me and stick by me, I could have ended up like many of the people I now work with.
I could have ended up alone, on the streets, dealing with the voices with nothing stable to anchor me or hold me down to reality. Just thinking about that makes me want to reach for the wine bottle; I can’t begin to imagine how the people who actually live through it manage to survive.
But anyway, I try not to think about this too much.. and instead focus on the fact that I’m giving up my time to help out people who don’t have much, and just making a difference. It’s been a great experience so far, and I’m hoping that eventually it may lead into a paid position!
But that’s for another post 🙂