So Ru and I had a fairly memorable Sunday night. Usually we would be vegging out at mine, watching a film or something on TV, and maybe half-heartedly trying to get some writing done.
Instead, at 8.30pm, we were layering up and preparing to head out on an Outreach shift.
I have been volunteering two days a week for a homelessness charity since November, and outreach is the part of my job which entails going out onto the streets of Croydon to find people unfortunate enough to be sleeping rough.
As I have explained in another post, we (the organisation I work for) have to follow a specific procedure before we can start working with an individual; and the most important part of that is the verification stage.
On outreach shifts we find people sleeping rough, and thus ‘verify’ their present, homeless status. Once that has happened we are able to take them on as clients, and start working with them to find permanent accommodation and meaningful occupation.
They are interesting nights to go out on, and really hammer home the squalid and desperate nature of sleeping rough on the streets; it can be really hard to see the way that some people live, and the cold hard reality of homelessness in Britain.
At the same time, it’s also really encouraging to be able to bring someone in off the streets and get them set up in a warm hostel; the look of gratitude and relief you usually receive as thanks is so very rewarding.
You really feel like you may have saved a person’s life.
So after I had described these nights to Ru a couple of times, he said he was interested in coming out on a shift with me, and experiencing it first-hand. I spoke to my boss last Monday, and was told that this was fine as a one off, but he would need to do an interview if he wanted to do it on a more permanent basis.
So last night, we went out on our first outreach shift together!
I have to say, I did feel a little bit like a “super-couple”… By day we write books and by night we patrol the mean streets of Croydon on the look-out for people who need out help.. lol ok- I’m probably getting a little too caught up in my fantasy “superhero couple” story idea, but it did feel pretty awesome to be going out with Ru, and sharing this experience with him.
We went with another volunteer; a woman who works as a children’s Social worker for Haringey council, has volunteered for the organisation for many years, and so really knows her stuff. She was telling us stories about the various different places she has worked, and the different people she has encountered along the way.
Together we checked out 8 different referrals, and managed to meet up with one guy. This is normal- we usually look for a lot more people than we find, although not always.
We managed to assess the guy we met up with, and hopefully he will head into the hostel I work at one day this week to meet up with support workers and start looking to meaningfully engage with services. He was grateful for our help, and eager to start looking for permanent accommodation.
It was a good night, and Ru said he enjoyed it and got a lot out of it. He is going to do the interview, so that he can come out on more shifts; though we got in at 1am last night, so getting up this morning for work really wasn’t fun.
It is definitely worth it though, and is a really good way of putting your own problems into perspective! Seeing the horrible circumstance in which some people live, the squalor and the poverty of the places people call home is a sobering pill to swallow.
It really makes you appreciate the four walls you get to call home.
Ru said he found it surreal at times, and I understood what he meant. You are exploring the strangest of places, in the middle of the night- climbing up and down deserted stairwells and exploring car-parks and badly lit back alleys and places you’d probably never encounter in any other circumstances; especially not at 12.30am at night.
It sometimes felt like trawling through the underworld of the busy town centres you know so well during the day and from the front entrance; very different places from the side which is kept neat and tidy for the public.
You feel like you’re seeing another side to the world, another place which most people likely never experience or even realise exists half the time.
The latest statistics I’ve seem estimate their to be 3,500 people sleeping rough on the streets of London on any given night, and that isn’t including those who are lucky enough to be able to kip on a friend or family members sofa a couple of nights of the week.
The problem is huge and the reality of it, which you really grasp on outreach shifts, is ugly and chilling.
I’m proud that I’m able to get out there a few times a month and do my bit to help the people who suffer such indignity and loss of basic human rights; and now my wonderful boyfriend will be coming with me.
Even if we only manage to bring a few people in and off the streets we will have helped out and made such an important difference to peoples lives- which is definitely a great achievement for a Sunday night.