Monday, 29 December 2014

Christmas Volunteering, with Crisis at Christmas

I know it's a bit late to tell you all about Crisis at Christmas now, but, well, maybe this post will be useful for you next year? I'm looking at all the posts going up of the lovely meals that everyone had at Christmas (and oh, they do look great!) and decided it was probably about time to tell you why I went a bit AWOL and what I got up to over the Christmas week.

This year was my fourth year volunteering with Crisis at Christmas, and my first time volunteering at a day centre. Crisis a homelessness charity that runs year round, however runs an extra special project for a week at Christmas - primarily throughout London but also in some other big cities in the UK. They set up special centres in secret locations to provide a range of services for homeless people. The centres vary - some are day centres, like the one I volunteered at this year - they are, as it suggests, open purely during the day and so are aimed primarily at people who have some sort of accommodation already. Others are for rough sleepers (the one that I have volunteered at for the past three years) which are open 24 hours and provide beds for those who normally sleep on the street, and a centre also exists for those with alcohol addiction.

I've spent the last four years as a volunteer, normally throughout the whole week - though this year I was a bit more limited as I don't have a car this year.

As well as providing beds and meals for the guests, there are other services available. This includes a range of entertainment options, massages, hair cuts, dentists, computers, advice giving, Narcotics Anonymous, the Samaritans, etc etc. All provided for free, of course!

Normally I work at the rough sleepers centres which have typically been placed in large warehouses in the middle of nowhere. They aren't the most pleasant of atmospheres but the guests there are the ones who typically need the services the most. I have always found the guests there to be extremely varied, but largely not the most trusting of people - which isn't too surprising - with the exception of one guest who for two years running I never saw stand still. He was literally always wondering around dancing and having a great time listening to the music! I actually missed him this year, he always kept me entertained.

This year I was at a day centre, which was in a very different location - inside a very nice school! All settings are 'donated' and receive no funding etc for providing the use of their setting so it was nice to see such a nice school being handed over for the use. Less volunteers were needed for this centre, however even less of those volunteers actually turned up which meant that most of the days this year I didn't actually have a break of more than about five minutes as there simply was not enough time. The guests at this centre were completely different - many of them knew each other already and I'd say were typically more enthusiastic and friendly. They were much more likely to come over and have a chat with me, and many of them seemed to just want somebody to come and talk to and tell their stories to. This was a big different to my normal centre, where sometimes literally nobody would want to talk - but of course, there are different priorities in those cases.

Though if all goes well I'll be back working shifts next year and it might therefore not be possible for me to do it, I'm hoping to make next year my 5th year volunteering with Crisis, however at this point have no idea which centre type I plan on returning to. If I'm honest, I had a better time at the day centre. It was more fun, people were friendlier and more easygoing. However, there's no denying that this is almost certainly because the people at the rough sleepers centres are more in need, and I think that assisting here is probably more of a priority for me even if it does mean not such a great time for myself - particularly because I don't mind doing night shifts, and there is often not enough volunteers to cover this shift. Perhaps next year I'll look into doing the alcohol dependency centre, though that will certainly be a different sort of place to tackle!
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