Crisis at Christmas
Most of my 55 Chistmas’ have been “merry”, to the point of self-indulgence. This Christmas I am discovering that for other people, “merry” is a hard-earned word.
Last night I saw people coming into Crisis At Christmas’ Bermondsey Centre, exhausted and weak from sleeping on the streets. They exchanged their bags for fresh blankets and pillows and settled in neat rows in the gym of a local school.
We watched over them as they slept, so they could sleep. I didn’t understand at first, till it was explained on, these people are used to being urinated on , kicked and robbed if they sleep on London streets. Many do not try, dragging themselves through the night, some with the protection of a dog, some with no protection at all.
Jeremy Corbyn’s Christmas message was that we protect these people. Jeremy Corbyn has it right. Crisis at Christmas are giving over 4000 a few days of peace and safety – this counts for “merriness”.
Many of the people I saw over night were young, I could imagine watching them on the football pitch or talking with them about the need to be financially savvy. Except these are not life chances that appear obvious to people who are hardly getting by.
I met volunteers last night who are working 7 continuos nights. One will spend all seven overseeing the dormitories, another wonders the outside areas of the school, simply to make sure that “nothing happens” to their 250 “guests”.
Some of the people aren’t young but have recently fallen on hard times. I talked with a man trying to rebuild his career by studying for a law degree. It is hard for him to study by day, as he finds it hard to sleep at night. He had courage.
He told me he was looking forward to a week when nothing happened and he could Link back to some kind of normality. That normality might be no more than a hostel, but he is someone who has fallen between the cracks of our social services and has nothing to rely on when the night falls.
Nothing happening when it is dark is a cause for him to be merry.
Right now i am back home, getting ready for a day shift, there is a bottle of wine waiting for me Christmas evening. No one in Bermondsey will be drinking alcohol or taking drugs on the site.
Instead, people will be getting haircuts, having showers, trying on new clothes, using the internet, getting advice on housing, work and benefits. Some will be spending time with doctors, some will be getting counselling.
As I rubbed my hands together in the early hours of this morning, standing at the gate of the hostel, I asked how much longer I’d be on this task, the man beside me pointed out that there was no rotation for those who sleep rough, the night is as long as the night is.
There was no nice flat to go home to, nor a nice bottle or red wine
Their’s is a sobriety that is self-imposed, but this is one forged from the desperation of the situation. During the course of the week, the weak and gaunt faces I saw arriving change (I am told) to happy and relaxed. The hardest shift (I am told) is the final shift of the week, when guests have to leave and return to where they came from.
Merry and sober
In November I spent a week walking in the mountains of Gran Canaria – thinking about the direction I wanted to take the second half of my life. I am using the financial fulcrum of the pension freedoms to try to reconnect to the zeal I had when I was a good, for spiritual self-fulfilment.
This has led to me being more merry and more sober. Time spent in the congregation of the Wesley Chapel listening to Lesley Griffiths and his pastoral team, has helped in this process of re-discovery. Last night we were at the Midnight Service in St Paul’s Cathedral, it was very moving.
I am hoping that my behaviour will continue to improve and I will be a little kinder towards others in 2017. For my charity has been very lacking in recent years.
I know, that many who read my blogs, do great things; the idea for volunteering for Crisis came from a couple who work in the retirement line of work. This is not a call to people to do more, but a testimony, that by doing a little , I have become more sober and more merry.
Listening to Quincy Jones talking to Julian Joseph on that radio last night, I heard the great man chuckle
Live every day like it was your last, and one day you will be right.