Saturday 14 January 2017

An evening at the Ferndale Baptist Church night shelter

June Dillow and Ashleigh Condon, the evening's receptionists

Tonight I volunteered at the Ferndale Baptist Church homeless shelter. They are home to the Friday night provision during the seventeen weeks that the Southend churches feed and provide night time accommodation for rough sleepers.

This is not my first visit to a night shelter, but it was the first time I have helped.

I was allocated the door - because (apparently) I look the type, and have the gift of the gab. I am not entirely sure that I should be flattered by that description. Anyway, my duties included supervising the entry of those seeking food and shelter. It allowed for some good conversations.

My encounter with the first batch of rough sleepers was comic. There was me, all five foot eight of me, looking at a gentleman who was six foot eight. Then I noticed the even taller Danish gentleman, a forty year old who was seven foot three inches - and he claimed he was still growing! Being the doorman in such company was surreal - and I have not mentioned the mere six footers. Fortunately there was one lad shorter than me.

Teas and coffees were supplied, as was a hot meal (curry) and dessert.

One of the clientele was a heavily pregnant young lady. There was a Lithuanian married couple. One woman must have been in her sixties at least.  It was a mixture of ages and backgrounds. Twenty-two were fed, sixteen were staying over. Everyone had a story.

The shelter manager was John Barber, who oversaw the evening's proceedings.

I stayed for four hours, my stint done. I will be back next week, and I hope to volunteer some more in February and March.

The evening left me grateful for what I have got, humbled by the work of so many good people, and pleased that I was able to make a small contribution to help those less fortunate. I can barely envisage just how tough it must be to be on streets at any time of the year, let alone in the freezing temperatures of the last few days.

And any of us can be made homeless. Lose our jobs, have a landlord who wants his property back, fall on hard times - and many more ways that it really could be us seeking the comfort of a free meal and somewhere warm and dry to kip.

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St Luke's Voice Winter 2018/19 edition