A sea of troubles

Last night I paid a visit to Chalkwell Park Methodist Church. It was a listening and learning exercise. I went to see for myself the work of the churches who cater for Southend’s homeless during the cold winter months. There are seven churches who operate a scheme where each has a day in the week allocated, and on this day they feed and allow twenty to thirty of the homeless to have somewhere warm and dry to sleep.

These night shelters may not be literal life savers (although it never ceases to amaze me how the homeless cope with the temperatures at this time of year) but it does offer succour to those in most desperate need.

Every story is unique. Sometimes the homeless are the engineers of their own misfortune, more often they are victim to the cruellest slings and arrows of outrageous misadventure. I have always counted myself as very lucky; I see all sorts of people with setback, mishap, sorrow, or woe visited on them and can easily see myself in a similar situation.

The people I met with last night may not be a representative example of the homeless, my experience here is so limited that I am unable to pass anything resembling an informed opinion. I can say that those I did speak with cover a range of ages (from those in their twenties to those close to pensionable age). I met people from both sexes, people with a history of employment, home ownership, families. I also met people with a history of substance abuse and those with mental health issues. I met those new to homelessness, as well as those with more experience in this area.

There was a number of factors common to all I spoke with. There was an absence of rancour, a wish for help, everyone was articulate, gentle in manner, and grateful that a politician had wanted to listen to their stories, hear of their concerns, and register their thoughts about what could be done.

There was a sense of collective support, of quiet resignation, of gratitude to the churches for what they were doing, and I was always amazed at the matter of fact way they told of how they were made homeless. If I had been ejected from my home on the most spurious of grounds I would have been angry, yet I did not detect this in those for whom this was a part of their story.

My naivety came through when told of how recovery addicts were often given freebies by dealers eager to see them hooked again. I was shocked to hear of assaults and all sorts of indignities visited on those force to sleep on the streets; stories of being kicked by young drunk revellers, being urinated on, having their few possessions stolen, of rape and assault. Of course, some of the homeless can be pretty unpleasant, but then these are often people with mental health conditions who should be being looked after, not left to fend for themselves in the direst of circumstances. The homeless speak of boredom, of being forgotten or ignored, of being at the very bottom rung of society, yet they do look ahead and dream of a return to normalcy (and I accept that for some this will be a pejorative phrase).

I felt humbled, wondered what I could do to help. I also felt guilty; I left the night shelter after just over two hours and returned to my central heated comfort.

A big thank you to Tony, John, Glyn, Vivienne, Geoff, Julie, Darren, Paul, and others whose names I did not manage to record.

One Response to A sea of troubles

  1. Diane Smith. says:

    Dear Julian
    Thank you for taking time to visit the Night Shelter.
    From all the team.

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