I’ve been to visit the charity Caring at Christmas to see them getting ready to give Bristol’s homeless an enjoyable festive season. They’re located at the Julian Trust shelter in St Pauls, which provides beds all year round. But from Christmas Eve through to 2nd January the building is open 24 hours a day. There will be extra beds, with 5o people staying for the whole of the holiday period. They will be joined by three times as many people who will pass through for some of the meals and entertainment.
The volunteers were getting the place ready, cleaning, laying out beds and sorting out the donations of food and clothes that pour in at this time of year. Amazingly, between now and when they tidy up after new years day more than 5oo Bristolians will have volunteered some of their time.
The charity also relies on about 1,500 donors for all the food. Some comes from people bringing in a few tins they’ve cleared out of their kitchen cupboards. Schools, clubs, workplaces and churches have collections. Local companies also donate. For instance last year Miss Millies did one complete meal run of chicken and chips. This year Yeo Valley Dairies will be giving 600 pints of milk. The store room is already stacked high with shelves full of tins and wheelie bins full of cereal boxes and tea bags!
As well as meals the people visiting the centre will be entertained by films, games and visiting bands. There will be a chance to see a doctor and various other health care needs will be met. There will also be barbers volunteering their services and even a head masseur. The centre has to be alcohol and drug free. The toilets have blue lights to make it harder for junkies to find veins to shoot up…
Of course what really matters is not that people get a nice end to 2011 but that they get a better life in 2012. Most of the people who will use the centre are not homeless in the sense that they sleep rough. Rather they are the “hidden homeless” who are staying at friends (sofa surfers) or even sleeping in their cars. Everyone will get advice on Bristol’s wide range of services for people without a permanent home of their own. They will get a survival handbook detailing all the advice and support agencies in the city.
During 2011 I have met several homeless charities. I opened the new media training centre at the Foyer and had lunch with people at the Salvation Army in Wade Street. Shelter have told me about all the problems faced by people who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless. I’ve also been out early in the morning with the rough sleepers team from St Mungos. As well as their core staff and premises, all these charities have a team of volunteers. So maybe as the end of the year approaches, a new year resolution could be to find a charity that you can support.
You can find out more about Caring at Christmas here: http://www.caringatchristmas.org.uk/