A volunteer’s view

Emma Garside shares her experience of volunteering to help homeless people – including working in our shop!

It’s been a year since I joined the homeless volunteering groups in Manchester and what an eye opener it has been! I went into it quite naively and uneducated that “surely because there were so many people on the streets nothing must be being done.” I can’t begin to tell you how wrong I was. In the past 12 months I’ve moved from walking the streets and handing out food and clothes to actually engaging with all the services that are available and investing my time, energy, money and resources into supporting those, as well as the people on the street.

Many things have been highlighted.

Firstly, don’t believe the hype. You may come across rough sleepers or beggars who tell you they’re starving and there is nothing to eat. Manchester has indoor food provision available seven days a week, with the likes of The Booth Centre, Food For All at Apostles Church, Barnabus, Coffee 4 Craig, LifeshareMustard Tree and so many others. There are also many other services such as Reach out to the Community in Chorlton, who help rough sleepers and those in need get to the correct services, help them register, provide food and clothing and support.

The reason so many have moved indoors is primarily to get people to engage with services. If they don’t come in they simply don’t have that opportunity. They can also get access to a doctor and even a vet for their dogs at different times throughout the weeks/months. We were feeding and clothing and they were staying put at their pitches and not engaging. The hard work of the indoor provisions was not reaching these people as they were not engaging.

Secondly some will attempt to engage but don’t like what they have to do to comply, it’s the nature of the beast, some people don’t like formality, many are afraid of change or simply have been let down so many times they just won’t believe what is being offered. It’s our job as volunteers to be gently persistent and remind them that there is help available. Each group/charity has their own set of values and rules, there are such varying resources on offer.

Thirdly, resources are at breaking point. All the amazing services out there run solely from donations so they constantly need food, drink, clothing etc – and of course volunteers to keep running.

Fourthly, homelessness can be a vicious circle. Someone may get access to accommodation and they’re not ready for it or don’t feel they are getting the right support after they are housed. They miss “street life” they miss their friends, they feel more vulnerable indoors and alone, they are struggling to make ends meet, the accommodation has few furnishings/comforts. They may end up back on the streets.

I’ve now found my permanent home, volunteering with Reach Out To the Community. The work that Steph, Becky and all the volunteers do is priceless. Helping the homeless and those in need is all we strive to do. This comes in so many forms: I’m the geeky one, so I love doing the admin and chatting with customers in the charity shop and with those who donate to the food supply drop-ins.

So what can you do? You can scroll right by and ignore this; you can share it; you can donate your money, time or items, whichever you feel comfortable with. You can also download Street Support, a free app which lists available services, so you can refer someone on the streets to real help. 

Get the app at the App Store or find it on Google Play.

Many people are working very hard to end and even avoid homelessness and rough sleeping so thank you all for doing your part too.