I wanted to find something a little different to do this Christmas, and while looking through the Independent’s “10 things to do…” I found this suggestion and am now so glad I did. This year I spent two days over the Christmas period at Crisis Christmas Centers, spending some time with the homeless in London, and I have to say it was remarkable. The whole concept really appealed to me, because nobody should be alone at Christmas time, and it really made me feel lucky for all that I have. I had been a little down lately after coming back from my travels, and the job hunt going very slowly, but after seeing the positive attitude of people, many who have absolutely nothing I realised I have nothing to complain about. I woke up Christmas morning to my lovely (all be it, slightly annoying at times family) and had a wonderful day, with too much food, and fun and games with friends, while this year I realised that this is not necessarily a given for everyone.
These centers provide a warm and safe environment for those in need during the week of Christmas, and with the cold weather we have been having lately it is definitely needed. The volunteers go along, and help out, from playing games, to signing people in, to serving food and cleaning toilets, generally spending there day chatting to the guests. I was a little aprehensive at first having never done anything like this before, but soon I was in full swing and met some lovely people, both volunteers and guests. And just knowing how grateful people were for the place made it worth every minute. On my first shift I was working in the dining hall to start, and as the queues where huge for meals, I was helping out my handing out cups of tea and coffee to those already eating. I asked one guy if he was enjoying his meal, and the response I got almost made me cry. He was so happy to be at the center, and thanked me for being there too, explaining just how grateful he was for a place to go and some hot food to eat. As I continued my rounds with the teas and coffees, another guy asked how many volunteers where working, and how long we all worked for, and he seemed truly shocked that people want to give up there time to help out, and spend time at the centers and right in that moment I couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t.
It was a lovely experience, but at the same time left me a sombre. So many of the men and women who came into the centre were probably in there 20s, some of them early 20s, and it made me realise that with one wrong turn, or unfortunate event and this could have been anyone of us, it could have been my brother.
My second day I spent the morning greeting guests and then moved over to the salon, where I signed people in for appointments, made appointments for the following day, and generally chatted to those people sitting and waiting for their appointment. It was great to see everyone being spoilt a little, having their hair cut, and I have never seen quite as many men who enjoyed getting their nails done. There was massages, reflexology and rakey healing also on offer on this day, and all of them were a huge hit.
The centers offer so much more than a warm place to sit. The centre I worked in was a day centre and there were no areas to sleep, but Crisis have several places throughout the week, but this one was for those who maybe had a hostel, or a sofa to sleep on, and was in an area where churches often open there doors at night for people to sleep. The centre where I was provided so much during the day though. Not only hair and nails, but a doctors service came in, a dentist and optician, a huge range of advise services, from money and work to drug counseling and Samaritans. There were also workshops in drama, art, yoga and much more, and a constant supply of games (and eager challengers in the volunteers) and computers. Not only is it a warm, and safe environment, but it is a place filled with fun and laughter.
I found the whole experience great fun and eye opening, and am now hoping to find something throughout the year I can also do to help. It was nice to meet so many new people, and to hear their stories, and it was nice for doing something just for the sake of doing it, for no other purpose than that.