Jezzi's 2012 Crisis (homeless shelter) blog repost
Rather than link outward to my personal blogs, though I'd repost within Minimins for those that were interested in my blog about working in a homeless shelter each Christmas.
It's not really a weight loss diary but hopefully it'll be ok tucked in here with the diaries. Mods please move it if not :s
Last edited by jezzi999 : 23rd December, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Crisis has been giving refuge to homeless people at Christmas for 40 years.
In the early years Crisis fed several hundred people, based out of a small church.
For Christmas 2011, Crisis expects 3000 homeless or vulnerably housed people to be "guests", at 9 centres across London, hosted with the assistance of 8000 volunteers, between 23-30th December.
There are 5 day centres, available for guests who have some sort of accommodation (hostel/b&b/'sofa-surfing' with friends or family) to drop by and access services and hot meals. In addition there are 4 residential centres open 24/7, for guests with no accommodation at all.
All guests have access to healthcare (including GPs, opticians, podiatrists etc), advice on housing, benefits and employment, to AA and Samaritans services; and to more fun activities such as arts and crafts, yoga classes, IT sessions, hairdressing and manicures!
As well as a temporary refuge, for many guests Crisis at Christmas is the bridge to a better new year, as many use the opportunities provided to get into housing, addiction treatment or education (often at the year round Crisis Skylight centre).
For the past five years, I've spent my Christmas time volunteering at Crisis Christmas shelters - a series of centres across London that open from 23rd-30th December each year, offering warmth, food, and friendship, for all those who need it.
This year I've decided to blog about my experiences at the shelter, both here and on the official Crisis website.
Hopefully this will give people an insight into homelessness and the workings of a Crisis shelter, and maybe inspire others to volunteer next year.
"Dependancy centre night shifts, 22nd December 2011"
Tomorrow night will be my first shift of 2011, the start of my 6th Christmas spent volunteering for Crisis. So where did my "Crisis story" begin?
In 2005 I was working in the NHS, but my employment ended on 25th December (yes I had to work my last day on Christmas day!), and my new job in the Private healthcare sector didn't start until January. Knowing I would have a few days unoccupied on my hands (and a mild sense of guilt of moving into the private sector), on a whim I decided to sign up for Crisis Christmas.
Not knowing much about Crisis, when the application form asked which shifts I'd like to work I ticked "any shift" and "any centre". Yes, ticked, because in 2005 I had to print the forms, and post them back - how quaint!
A few weeks later a letter came back, allocating me Dependency centre, night shifts (10pm-8:30am). A 24/7 centre, specifically for homeless people with drug and alcohol problems. Oh god, what had I agreed to? Mild panic set in, and friends and colleagues told me that I was mad. By the night of the first shift, I was in two minds whether to even leave the house. But - classic NHS mindset - guilt attacked me as I thought of the other volunteers expecting me to turn up, so off I trotted.
Dependency centre that year was based in a derelict gold bullion store (!) in South London, and from the minute I walked in the door I knew I had made the right choice. The building was warm, and the welcome from the other volunteers even warmer. As I started to talk to other volunteers, new and old alike, it turned out that most had first come to the Dependency night shift due to picking the "any shift, any centre" option as well. As the years have passed, I've often thought that this is why the atmosphere at the centre is so chilled out, with such a flexible, laid back set of volunteers.
And the guests? Well there was the biggest shock of all. Guests were everywhere, doing all kinds of activities, late into the night. Playing chess and cards with other guests and volunteers, reading books, watching Christmas movies on TV, sitting chatting, painting pictures, singing karaoke at 3am... just people, sitting around like thousands of families up and down the country. Not outsiders, not cold, dirty, miserable.
And that's what Crisis has come to be for me - a family Christmas. On the 25th I spend a wonderful Christmas with my biological family. And the other days of Christmas? I spent those with my Crisis family. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
"First night, 23rd December 2011"
Last night (night of the 23rd) was our first night of Crisis Christmas 2011. It's hard summarise a 10 hour shift into a few short paragraphs, even with a quiet shift, but I'll do my best to try.
We had about a quarter of our capacity of guests last night, so the centre was pretty quiet, but this is normal for us on a first night. We are a referral centre, so guests first go to a drop in day centre, and those with no accommodation are then assessed to see which Crisis shelter would be best for their needs - rough sleepers centre for general homelessness, dependancy for those with identified drink or drug problems, women's centre for those women that would feel safer in a single sex environment or those that are particularly vulnerable (the other shelters are all mixed-gender).
We might have been quiet, but the rough sleepers shelter was already at full capacity by the time we started last night, meaning 300 guests had been sent there within just a few hours of Crisis Christmas opening. Crisis are now saying we have more guests than ever this year. This means that from today, lots more guests will be coming to our centre, as all the beds at the other centres already seem to be full.
So, a "quiet" night for us then, but still plenty to do. Around half of the volunteers last night were experienced volunteers (more than 2 previous years of volunteering) but the other half were new, and the building we've been loaned this year is new to us (and is spread over 5 floors), so as well as supporting new volunteers we also had to orientate ourselves to a new building.
During the day many activities and services are available to guests - medical clinics, dentists, opticians, podiatrists, accommodation and employment advice, AA and NA meetings, yoga, hairdressing, manicures, IT classes, and much much more.
During the night there aren't structured activities, but there is access to computers, the "coffee shop", a library of donated books, boardgames, TV to watch or just the opportunity for guests to sit and socialise amongst themselves or with volunteers. For us nighttime volunteers this means we have less structure to our shifts too, as there isn't a need to fit in a rigid timetable of activities, so most of our tasks consist of just keeping an eye on things and making sure there's no trouble. There are meals to be served (supper at 2am anyone?) and toilets to be cleaned, but still plenty of time to just sit and chat with guests.
And already this year we have had some real success stories. Some guests have already been lined up with accommodation or addiction programme to go on to.
And the highlight of the shift so far? Seeing 3 new volunteers turn up - that in previous years were guests. Having worked really hard they have turned their lives around, they are now "giving back" to help others. I'm so pleased and proud of them, as this is a massive achievement. It makes the more difficult times in the shelter be worth every moment.
Two nights off for me now (as I can't get to the shelter while the transport is down over Christmas day), but I may post a few more updates regardless if I think of things to write.
"Boxing Day night, 26th December 2011"
Boxing day night was my second night of the year. After two nights off due to lack of transport over Christmas Day, going back on to nights mode is always a struggle. But a short nap (and some Redbull) and I was ready and raring to go.
As it was the 4th night of the centre being open, the new volunteers had got the hang of things, so we were straight out onto the floor to replace the tired afternoon shift volunteers.
I've slept twice since last nights shift - 2 hours this morning and 2 hours just before coming out tonight - so it's all a bit hazy now and feels like days ago, but there are snapshots that I remember.
I definitely started by sitting outside the loos, on the lookout for dodgy behaviour (smoking indoors, drugs etc) and ended up cleaning down tables ready for breakfast, but everything else is blurry.
I remember doing a jigsaw with an eastern European guest, taking a blind guest outside for a cigarette, and listening to a guest tell me about "this really nice place I have in Chelsea, warm and dry and everything" which turned out to be a particularly sheltered doorway.
The atmosphere was a bit tense towards the end of the night - just like any family christmas sometimes the goodwill between guests wears thin - and there were a few minor incidents between guests. But overall the atmosphere was good.
And then suddenly it was 8:30 again and time for home and bed.
"A shift of two halves, 27th December 2011"
I've wrestled long and hard with my conscience about what to write about last night's shift, and changed my mind several times.
I want my blog to encourage others to volunteer for crisis, so it's nice to show the overwhelmingly positive experience that volunteering here truly is. But equally I think it's a disservice to future (and current volunteers) to pretend that every night, for every volunteer, is a positive, warm, fuzzy experience. Sometimes it's just about getting through the night, reflecting on what happened, and then starting the next night fresh and hoping it'll be better. Pretending otherwise makes you feel guilty when it's your turn to have that bad night. Admitting we all have them somehow makes it easier to write off.
There's always one night each year I find difficult, and it seems this one was destined to be it.
I began the shift massively overtired, having had only a few hours of disturbed sleep since the last night shift, not the best start really.
I started with a seemingly simple duty of restricting access to lifts that weren't in use. Within an hour I was called a C*** three times, and squared up to by two guests. Going up and down 5 sets of stairs every time a fag break is needed isn't going down too well.
Normally I can tell the difference between someone being generally angry, and someone being angry with me personally. This time however I think I was just too tired for repeated abuse, even though I knew it wasn't meant personally. After a brief discussion with a green badge [volunteer in charge of the shift], and a cry in the loos, I knew I needed to remove myself from the situation.
I found someone to swap with me, and headed down to the volunteers area. I've done enough years of this now to know that in this situation the only thing to do is take a time-out and clear your head, or the night (and your mood) just rapidly spirals downhill.
I spent an hour in the volunteers room, sipping a bottle of Redbull and eating some M&Ms, before I could face venturing back out.
The rest of the night was like a different shift for me. With my head in the right place, and my energy levels at least partly improved, everything felt better.
I spent time in the bedrooms, helping newly arrived guests find beds, and watching those that had been there a few days enjoying much needed undisturbed sleep.
I sat in the luggage room, watching over guests belongings, so that they could enjoy themselves without worrying that the few precious belongings they had would be stolen.
I watched as guests who just days earlier wouldn't even make eye contact, had long heart-to-hearts with volunteers and made plans to apply for housing or detox programs.
And I knew that in spite of the tiredness, the unpredictably, in spite of how badly I was missing home, my bed and my wonderful husband, that I'd be back tonight to do it all over again.
Just maybe this time having had some more sleep before hand.
For some more eloquent writing on why we do what we do, check out this piece http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/th...as-story-learn
"Guests and volunteers, 28th December 2011"
After the previous shift ("A shift of two halves"), I went home and slept right through for seven hours straight. After that there was a mountain of bubble and squeak to be eaten, and a catchup with my husband, before it was time to head out for the next shift.
And what a difference from the night before. Being well rested and well fed made me feel so much better, and the shift went quietly and smoothly.
Which leads me on to the guests - if I felt that crap after a couple of nights disrupted sleep, it is easy to see why some guests can be so bad tempered and aggressive. Weeks, months or even years of poor nutrition, no sleep, no protection from the elements, no healthcare and being ignored (or worse, abused) by the general public must be truly soul destroying.
As the days pass over "Crisis week", the guests look happier, healthier and have more energy, while in parallel the volunteers look more and more haggard. It's not uncommon to have a guest tell you "you look awful you really need to have a good meal and a nap"!
So, the line between "them and us" fades... The only distinction between us being the pin badges us volunteers wear with our names on them. Often you find yourself talking to someone and, if their shirt is obscured and you can't notice a badge, suddenly realising that you don't know if they are a guest or a volunteer, and realising it doesn't matter that you can't tell.
Guests tell you stories, stories of how they ended up without a permanent home. Bereavements, divorces, domestic abuse, child abuse, time in care, time in the Armed Forces, disabilities, redundancy, mistakes made, paperwork lost, payments missed. Things that can and do happen to lots of people, but to those without family or friends willing to pick up the pieces, or without savings, or the life skills to fix a mistake, instead of a temporary inconvenience these things can become the end of the world. And the start of homelessness.
And for some guests this is compounded by addiction - drugs, alcohol, gambling. Addiction. Sometimes the cause of the woes, sometimes caused by it. Some guests fighting it, religiously attending AA and NA, bouncing from detox unit to detox unit, other guests sinking into it, enjoying the numbness it brings from the pains of their lives.
The line between us and them. So thin. So fragile. A tightrope. Some guests go on to become volunteers. Some volunteers go on to become guests. I've seen both happen. The line blurs.
You see a volunteer you haven't seen since last year, they ask how your year has been. "Still on the right side of the desk" you say, pointing to your badge. And sometimes that's all you can ask for.
"The darkest hour is just before the dawn, 29th December 2011"
Suddenly before I knew it, it was the final night (night of the 29th/30th). Final nights are always a bit "lively" as the guests start to get anxious about going back out into the world, and because the sanctions that we have to help us keep order (i.e warnings, 2 hour bans, 1 day bans, permanent bans etc) become less of a deterrent when we are closing in a few hours anyway.
So the night was a bit noisier and chaotic than some of the previous, but still lots of good work was going on - lots of guests receiving last minute housing/detox advice, and still plenty of guests enjoying a final nights sleep and a good dinner at 2am (pasta bolognese). There wasn't a huge amount of clothing available for us to give out this year, but guests identified as being particularly in need were given coats, sturdy shoes and warm layers.
At around 5am we started to clear up the "living room" floor - where the eating area, arts and crafts zone, TV area and DJ/dance floor were located. Lots of rubbish to be dumped, but also being very careful as amongst the old newspapers, paper plates, tissues and other debris were people's belongings, and I stumbled across someone's tenancy paperwork. What looked like an abandoned carrier bag with a couple of scraps of paper in it could be a guests sole possessions and their only pictures of their family. So every piece of paper and bin bag needed checking for ownership before being thrown away.
At around 5:30am a guest had a fit (common in those drinking a lot, or those suddenly stopping drinking alcohol), so myself and another volunteer were occupied for about an hour clearing his airway and then sitting watching him while he slept it off, making sure he didn't have another fit. After about 30 mins he woke up and started talking with me, and I could confirm that he understood that he'd had a fit, and that he had had fits before. After an hour he was up and about, and I moved on to other tasks.
At 7, the hardest part of the crisis week begun. Packing up the bedrooms. Looking out of the window, across pre-dawn, dark, rainy London, where most people were still sleeping off Christmas, it was with a heavy heart we begun waking people, and packing away the empty camp beds, heavy woollen blankets and pillows. By 10am, after a hearty breakfast and a final shower, the last guests would be gone.
Some volunteers wont work the final shift, as they find it so upsetting. I've worked it the last 6 years; I don't know why, I guess it feels like some kind of necessary penance to me. The day it stops upsetting me is the day I have to stop volunteering at Crisis - the day it stops being heartbreaking is the day I stop having a heart.
And then it was over. 8:30am and we were relieved by the morning shift. So what do a bunch of people that have spent their Christmas working with those with dependancy problems do to unwind? Head to the pub. At 9 in the morning. Except for us of course, it was essentially our evening time after a week working nights. Well thats my excuse anyway. A local pub kindly opened specially for us, and we had a few drinks, and sat, and talked, getting the weight of the week off our shoulders. Slowly as the day went on, people drifted off home, heading for bed, or to catch up with family and friends missed over christmas.
So that was it, the end of crisis Christmas 2011. Except it's not. Our minds don't switch off that easily. As we lay in our beds at night, we think. We think about those guests that have been found places to go, homes, hostels, detox programmes. And those that haven't. At 3am on the 31st I can't sleep. I go online, and find dozens of other volunteers too. Wandering the pages of Facebook looking for kindred souls. And we sit, and we chat. Trying to soothe each others troubled minds.
And as the weeks go on, it will ease a little. We won't forget, but it will start to fade. Until we walk down the street, and we see a Big issue seller, or someone sleeping in a doorway, or a "crazy guy" shouting on the bus. And we will recognise them. No longer just a faceless nobody, but a person, with hopes and dreams and fears. And you can never un-know that.
And that's why we'll be back next year, no matter how hard it will be.
Some stats from the week:
Total Number of Guests using Crisis Christmas centres - 3200 ( an increase of 7% on 2010)
Number of guests referred for sleeping at our residential centres - 591 - we did not turn anyone that needed a bed away
Number of meals served - 21000
Gender Breakdown - 87.79% male /11.68% female
Average age - 43.37
Where guests were from (Borough) - top five Westminster 20.% ( estimate), Lewisham 12.34%, Newham 9.45%, Camden 8.82%, Southwark 8.82% (clog)
Number of advice sessions given - 673 guests for 985 needs
Healthcare appointments - 629
Dependency Night shift Stats
· Guests at peak 157
· 15 people given advice over 2 night shifts
· 5 people had an alternative to rough sleeping if they choose to accept it. (nights and day shift combined)
· 2 people were resettled (nights and day shift combined)
· 11 guests assessed for detox in 2 and a half nights.
· 1 guest got a detox after 24 years of attending crisis at Christmas (with only 1 previous attempt at detox)
· 5 guests into detox
· 1 man found during a patrol outside the building, extremely unwell and sent to hospital which may well have saved his arm, offered support and encouragement which helped him stay in hospital. Later assessed and got into detox.
· Team still working to get 1 guest into a night shelter
· Day shifts - 75 guests had advice (up until the eve of the 29th) Plus many more for benefits and legal advice.
Most services delivered on schedule across all centres with a higher level of salons, massage, and podiatry, sewing than ever and more health clinics
At least 36 people have been referred on to a night shelter, b&b etc
More involvement from Crisis members - Skylight ambassadors, the brilliant Skylight Band. Kitchen porters, warehouse assistants and general volunteers - over 50 members were involved in running CC this year!
Entertainments highlights were the Skylight Band, Rokaoke, Natty, Opera, Folk...and the Cheeky Girls
Football Tournament between 7 of 9 centres at Bermondsey was won by...Bermondsey, beating Dependency 7 - 6. The next day 39 guests were treated to a tour of Arsenals Emirates stadium and got to play on the pitch. Arsenal and Fulham came in to hold coaching sessions. Guests also were coached by Millwall too
North London Day centre guest used his 50th birthday to start a collection for Crisis and raised an astounding £1200
Curry nights! Both Rough Sleepers and Dependency benefitted from local curry houses providing dinner - both very well received.
Fears of problems with the Dependency Centre location were unfounded - in fact it was the calmest Dependency centre in years, with few problems and supportive neighbours
Last edited by jezzi999 : 30th September, 2012 at 08:13 AM
The overwhelming response to this blog has been that those of us that volunteer are some kind of amazing, selfless, angels. And of course we are!
But seriously, we are just average people. Most of us have no special training, no background experience, no special gifts. We are just average people that give up a few days each year to make a small difference. It takes 8000 volunteers every year to run Crisis Christmas.
You don't have to give up a whole week, or work nights. The minimum commitment is 2 shifts (day shifts are around 8 hours, or night shifts are around 10). You will always work in pairs, and there will always be more experienced volunteers to support you.
You don't have to work with people with dependancy issues, or even people that sleep rough. There are Crisis day centres in N, E, S and W London that are for people that have temporary accommodation (eg hostels, B&Bs, "sofa surfing" or squatting) and just feel lonely over Christmas and need support.
You don't even have to work with guests at all - there are always volunteers needed to help with admin work, setting up buildings, packing them down again, or driving equipment around.
Applications for volunteering next year start around october 2012. If you've been at all touched by this blog then consider it.
And if you can't get to London, or you can't get any time off over Christmas, please consider giving Crisis a few pounds.
I've genuinely seen the difference this charity makes. To see a volunteer turn up this year, looking happy, healthy and settled, that 4 years ago was a guest that couldn't stand up or talk coherently, proves that this works. It's a step on the road to ending homelessness.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5WDSjzgOns&sns=em Crisis Christmas 2011 video
Likes to post
- Rep Power
Start Date: 9.09.12
Start Weight: 14st7lb
Current Weight: 11st0lb
Goal Weight: 10st4lb
Goal Date: daughters graduation in June 2013
Start BMI: 34.8
Current BMI: 26.4
Goal BMI: 24.7
Total Weight Loss: 3st7lb
Weight to Lose: 0st10lb
% Lost 24.14%
Wow am sat here bawling. Thank for sharing that. Amazing/ Beat sitting stuffing my face and getting blotto.
I've changed jobs and was worried I might not get Xmas off this year (I work in hospital so it's a really hard time to get off) but luckily I have managed to swing Xmas week off, so I have booked in to do another 5 night shifts this year.
For anyone interested, registration for new volunteers starts 15th October, and you only have to commit to a minimum of 2 shifts (normally around 8 hours each). You don't need any experience to be a general volunteer, but they also look for people with specific skills such as beauticians, hairdressers, performers/entertainers etc.
Thought I'd start adding this years blog here too.
It's not strictly a diet blog but I do try and track my food where possible..,
So another year has passed, and it's time for Crisis 2012 to begin.
For anyone that doesn't know much about Crisis, feel free to read some of my blog posts from last year to get some background info.
This year there are 9 Crisis Christmas centres spread across London again. For once the centre I'm volunteering in will be reasonably close to home for me which will make the commute so much easier, especially on the way home when I'm tired!
My centre this year has been rebranded, and is now known as "The Gate". We'll still be a small centre with a specific focus on guests with drink and drug dependencies, but hopefully our new name will be more welcoming and less stigmatising.
This year will be my 7th Christmas volunteering for Crisis, and I was lucky this year to be put forward for some extra training so that I can become one of the Key Volunteers - an experienced volunteer that helps the Shift leader & Assistant shift leaders by dealing with situations, supporting new volunteers, etc.
So in the last month I've squeezed in several training days covering policies, first aid, an update on the UK homeless statistics, dealing with difficult situations and much more.
I'd originally committed to 5 nightshifts on 23,26,27,28 and 29th, but the centre is opening a night early tonight for referrals from street outreach teams, so I decided a couple of hours ago that I'd book on the extra shift tonight.
I've had an hours nap, hopefully that will see me through til 8:30am tomorrow!
Fingers crossed I can remember all that training I've been on....
Bonus night (22/12)
So I wasn't planning to work tonight - id originally committed to work 5 shifts and this wasn't one of them! We don't usually open our doors until the 23rd, but a change to referral systems saw us open a night earlier.
I hadn't initially booked myself on to the extra shift, I couldn't decide if I wanted to work the shift or not. I knew it'd leave me more tired, and it'd also cut into my pre-Xmas weekend with my husband. It's a difficult balance to strike, he's extremely supportive of my volunteering with Crisis, but I miss him very much while I'm on shift, and I knew not only would it mean another night apart but also me sleeping during our Sunday together.
But late in the afternoon I started thinking about it again, and particularly as this year the centre is much closer to my home that previous years... I knew that if I didn't go I'd spent all night wishing I'd gone.... I spoke to my husband and he told me I should definitely go and make the most of it.
I managed to grab an hours nap and a quick dinner, and have a shower and clean my teeth to wake me up a bit, and then it was time to head off to shift.
Shift started at 10:15pm. Firstly we had a team briefing to welcome new volunteers, explain all the rules and how things work, and then a quick tour of the building and then off we go!
We only had 20ish guests but for the first night that was to be expected, by tonight we will probably be nearly full. But although we didn't have many guests there was still setting up work to be done - decorating the building, organising the store rooms, getting things sorted before it gets busier tomorrow.
I spent most of the night paired up with new volunteers showing them the ropes of cleaning bathrooms, making information posters in various languages (I'm a dab hand at copying Russian letters even if I cant read them!), supervising the sleeping areas and patrolling the front gate. I also managed to eat some nice shepherds pie at around 2am.
There was plenty of time to catch up with other long term volunteers that have become firm friends over the years, and also keeping an eye on which guests have arrived. I recognised a guest that I helped 2 years ago when he was very unwell, and while of course it's sad to see that he still needed to come to the centre it was great news to see how healthy he was looking this year.
And so to end of shift. There were a few teething problems for the morning shift, so we got out a little late at 9am. but at least a short commute home for me, some volunteers have a 2 hour journey each way!
Almost home now, and off to bed to catch some zzzzzs....
I'll post again tomorrow
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