This is a reblog so to speak. I wrote this after volunteering for Crisis over the Christmas period last year. It was shared around a lot and people said that after reading it they would consider volunteering this Christmas. So I would like you to read about my experience and consider that again. It was a Christmas that changed things for me and I hope it does something to you……..
Since working with Occupy and other groups and observing the success of social movements through time, I have learnt that the change has to begin with us. Most organisations are best when working at grass roots level and seem to lose all use and effectiveness when entering to main stream politics. A side effect of main stream politics is marginalisation. What this says to me that local politics are the way forward. So this year to carry on from what I have learnt and taking it out into the community I decided to volunteer for Crisis. I volunteered on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, I wasn’t quite ready to give up my Christmas day.
On arriving at Crisis all new volunteers were taken into a room where we were given an Induction explaining the work of Crisis, the running of that particular centre, the referral system, the type of guests we were likely to be encountering, the things that may take place and what we may or may not have to do depending on ourselves and our own comfort zones (we were told on numerous occasions we did not have to do anything that we were not comfortable with). We had the key workers introduced and the housekeeping covered. The induction showed great organisation, passionate and caring people and an atmosphere of “doing”. The deal was to treat the guests with compassion and respect and to oblige them almost anything . The Centre allowed drinking as most guests were dependent, but they offered every opportunity for the guests to talk to an agency regarding their problems and ran AA meetings and had support groups there. They had Volunteer Doctors, Chiropodists, Hairdressers, Opticians. They had changes of clothes and computer facilities. They ran a football tournament and took the boys training. And they had 24 hour sleeping area and food whenever it was needed. They set out to make the life of these people as comfortable and as safe as possible over the next few days and make sure there was someone there for them to talk to about anything. At the end of the Induction it was advised that at the end of the 8 hour shift all volunteers go back to the room for a debrief and to talk about anything that they had found particularly upsetting and they didn’t want anybody going home upset.
Now the guests I met all had stories to tell. Some of them true some of them not. But even the stuff that wasn’t true had become real by telling the story so many times they believed it themselves .So in fact they seem to suffer from their own creations.
My first encounter was “A”. I was put on duty in the sleeping area were a small old West Indian lady was curled up in the camp bed nearest to me. Her hair was a mass of locks where it hadn’t broken off and her right arm and fingers in a bandage. She lay in bed with all her clothes on surrounded by her bag of medicines and creams, food and soft drink cartons. Soon after my arrival she awoke. When I went to her it was hard for her to get up and walk as she had been hit by a car a couple of weeks earlier and damage had been done to her arm, broken fingers and her leg. The driver did not stop and of course she did not go to the hospital. Her bed was wet and so were her clothes. Nobody had been able to get her to do anything and she definitely had a slight whiff going on. Her clothes and her blankets were wet and she had slept solid for 14hours since her arrival. So I proceed to get her up a strip her bed, get clean blankets, but there was no way I was going to get her to change. “A” went back to bed for a while and continued to sleep. I was then moved on to the arts and crafts corner where I spotted a young girl drawing a dragon, turns out she is younger than my daughter and has already been on the street for 3 years. We chatted about music and films and life. I fetched drinks I made stars and decorations, we matched colours and we decided we both weren’t that keen on Garage or Grunge. She didn’t tell me her story.
So before my next shift I had already decided that “A” was going to be my mission. As soon as she saw me she screamed my name and was genuinely pleased to see me. We chatted about what had been going on since my last shift and she started to tell me about her life. 5 Children and grandchildren and had become homeless after violence in the marital home. Malibu and Coke was her drug of choice but was quite happy to consume anything and everything else she could get her hands on. As we chatted I persuaded her that we should use the services on offer and slowly but surely I managed to get her to the Chiropodist and we sorted out her feet. Whilst waiting “A” curled up with her body on my lap and I held her and I rocked her and I stroked her hair. She then ate and slept and once again was soaking wet. When she woke I changed her blankets and still she wouldn’t change her clothes. We talked some more as she scratched her itchy skin (Eczema). I had managed to get some nice drawstring tracksuit bottoms from the clothes store and showed them to her trying to persuade her that they would be very comfy option. And low and behold the flood gates opened. “A” had no bladder control after being raped so violently that the internal damage had required medical treatment, During the rape the men had beaten her breaking her knee cap and her ribs. She cried and cried and cried. The police had arrested the perpetrators and had evidence but the case had fallen by the wayside and she had seen them since. This may have happened for many reasons “A” not turning up to appointment’s with the police, solicitors, courts, it may have been dropped because “A” was drunk and aggressive and maybe too much like real work but for whatever reasons the case was not followed through and “A” is still living with the consequences. After this opening up things changed. I took “A” to the wash room and stripped her down and washed her, I creamed her body from head to foot and I got her into nice clean clothes. Before we got out of the washroom “A” had already wet her tracksuit bottoms, so we started all over again this time I managed to get hold of some incontinence pads and we washed and changed. This had taken me my entire 8 hour shift. I told her I was leaving and that I wasn’t going to see her again but I am quite sure she is used to that. So now it was my time to go.
So what now? The thing that resonated in my head was the bit at the Induction where they wanted to hear any feedback and make sure we weren’t upset about anything or by the guests before we went home. Upset by the guests? Really? The old quote comes to mind you can tell the state of a nation by the way it treats its most vulnerable. Well I want to go home angry and upset I want to go home with a fire in my belly. I am not upset by the guests or what they said or what they do. I am fucking angry and upset at our Government. I could quote figures of the 65,000 homeless children this Christmas, the 26,000 that died from fuel poverty last winter, I could quote the 32 deaths a week after failing test for new incapacity benefit. But the numbers are irrelevant. One death is enough to make me know it is wrong so wrong. The City of London released it’s accounts last week showing their wealth in Billions. We are one of the richest nations and yet we let these people die and suffer when there is no excuse. Don’t get me wrong I know there is not a one pill fixes all and I know that some people are so damaged there is no fixing. But just because they can’t be fixed doesn’t mean we can just throw them to the wolves it means that we look after them in their broken state.