Tuesday 2 January 2018

Meagre help for the homeless - scraps and notes from a recent evening

Another spell at a homeless shelter, doing some small bit of good, I hope. A turn at one of the seven churches offering food and shelter in Southend-on-Sea during the winter of 2017 – 2018. This is my second season, having put in half a dozen stints over the previous winter.

Incontinence, recovering from substance problems, recently released from prison; some of the stories behind the faces turning up for succour.

Someone from Glasgow, fairly new to Southend-on-Sea, now sleeping rough. The ex-con, trying to cure alcoholism, eating but not staying.

The ex-dealer who is finding salvation in Jesus, too afraid of rejection to attend any church. Not knowing what to expect if he turned up at church, not knowing how to behave once there, not understanding that not everyone judges.

Missing teeth, so many missing teeth – a testament to tough lifestyles, and badly looked after bodies. The drunk, initially offered a delayed entry in the hope that sobriety would kick in to some extent. The hapless youth, too young to be on the streets, too young to have spent four years there; unable to live with the one remaining parent, struggling with mental health issues. How do those on the streets cope with the necessary routine that is the demand of medication? It seems that often the answer is an obliging pharmacist, but how those dealing with health issues somehow manage this and their desperate circumstances is almost beyond comprehension.

There are the cheerful, and there are the quiet. There are those who seemed to have lost the art of communication, and yet others who are ready to share stories. Gratitude, always grateful. Food and shelter, those most basic of human rights, but clearly in short supply to those below the underclass. Teas and coffees adorned with plenty of sugar. Biscuits happily consumed.

A TV set playing DVDs is eagerly sought. A cheery face a magnet to the lonely. The cast is a pot pourri from all the society holds -  anyone of us could be in their shoes had things turned out differently for us and them.

The many faces are growing in number as the rising number of rough sleepers is a manifest outcome of austerity. An increasing need when resources are diminishing – thank goodness for the generous.

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St Luke's Voice Winter 2018/19 edition