The number of rough sleepers in London has nearly doubled since 2009, with almost 6500 estimated to be in the capital this Christmas. To help tackle this issue Crisis, a national charity dedicated to ending homelessness, opens day centres and night shelters across London every Christmas.
This years ‘Crisis at Christmas’ was the busiest yet, with almost 4000 people visiting the centres over the festive season. This could not have happened without its 9000 amazing volunteers, who helped give people the chance to access services and facilities across the capital.
Volunteers – who range from hairdressers, to washer-uppers and doctors – are the charity’s front line of support over Christmas and help to deliver the charity’s objective of breaking the cycle of homelessness; by using their wide ranging skills to offer food, companionship, entertainment, hairdressing, massage and general health and advice services.
On Sunday 29 Dec, The Big Issue Online Journalists were at the South East London Day Centre. Alison, an arts and crafts tutor, who has been volunteering at Crisis for Christmas for 16 years told us: “It makes you feel great when people appreciate what you do. I really think you get as much out of it as they receive.” Adding, “I am always amazed at the talent and skills of the people who come into the centre. I think it is wonderful that they get the space and materials to create some amazing work, as this really helps them gain in confidence and realise their potential.”
As well as bringing a wealth of human experience and talent many guests also carry a wide range of needs and issues. George, a pensioner, loved the food and was most appreciative of being able to see a free dentist, as being homeless can make registering with medical practitioners very difficult.
For many it is the health provision at Crisis for Christmas that helps them the most. Over tea and a mince pie in the communal eating hall Carmel, who is disabled, said: “I could have my eyes, ears and teeth checked all at one time, struggling back and forth between services can be a big challenge for me”.
Bernadette, who had just enjoyed a massage and is delighted with her new haircut, first attended a Crisis centre 3 years ago. Since that time Bernadette said she has made a number of new friends, adding: “the social contact [that the centre provides] has really helped me overcome my isolation.”
Bernadette makes a strong point. With live music, people chatting, playing chess and generally socialising, there is a real sense of togetherness and belonging at the centre this Christmas.
To find out about the great work Crisis does all year round visit their website