When I woke up this morning, I was apprehensive, scared and not sure if I had made the right choice. Yesterday was stressful, I just wanted my bed. Its Christmas week and didn’t feel like it apart from the decor adorning the posh stores in Bruton Lane and the Christmas Tree in Berkley Square.
It was not my regular Christmas; I didn’t wake up to the sounds of people rushing to church or a list of plans or things lined up for the day. This time, I was preparing to spend the day with homeless people at Hammersmith centre.
Naysayers said they would smell, they are drunk and ‘ Charlene, I bet you next time you will not go back again.’ When I reached the Crisis Hammersmith Centre this morning, the atmosphere was different. Volunteers from the gate were out in the cold to greet the homeless with a friendly smile and a warm welcome, it was heart warming.
I scurried in, tried to drop my bags off at the staff area and make my way to the Arts and Entertainment. Help was needed with additional poster making, I was only happy to. Drawing with oil crayons took me back to my school days. My mind went blank for a few minutes; I was making Art workshop posters. Little did I Imagine, just drawing and painting would bring much joy
It wasn’t long before the main games area started to fill in with the guests. I liked the way the homeless were referred to as ‘guests’. Trying to break the ice is always hard. Some were chatty; some with language barriers tended to keep to themselves.
I attempted to chat to the quiet man sitting in the corner. It didn’t take me long to figure out he was Italian, and moreover from a city I was familiar with Arezzo, from my days in Florence studying Italian. I listened to him, he was positive, didn’t drink or take heroin. I asked him what brought him to London. He told me about his divorce – he was in London 25 years ago, and went back. The current economic situation compelled him to return in the hope of finding some work in the restaurant business. But a few day into his stay, he was robbed, and this drove him to sleeping rough on the streets. I was curious to know what it was like, how he survived?
He was quick to emphasise; When tough situations are thrown at you; you always find the courage to survive. He was extremely positive and fondly spoke of his mum, why was I not surprised? Bless. I was touched by his simplicity, humility and positive outlook despite the odds.
It was nice to meet fellow volunteers during the day. No one spoke about what he or she did as their job and where they were from. Our only focus was to make it a special day for the guests. In the course of the day, I spoke to many guests. Most of them looked forward to the t – shirt painting workshops which were at 4 pm. Its little wonder they say some of the best art and writing comes form experience in the streets. I thought it was true. Towards the end of the evening, when they were put on display, I was captivated by their imagination.
One of the guests overcoming heroin addiction needed help, and constant reassurance to finish his t-shirt. He was well pleased with a task accomplished, admitting its hard for him to keep focus. He was suicidal and travelled from Newcastle in the hope of finding some company in London for Christmas. Luckily a Crisis pamphlet spotted at Victoria station brought him to the centre in Hammersmith.
In the course of my few days there, you could see the transformation. Many of them were happier, weren’t drinking or under any drug influence, but were happy. A thought that did cross my mind was the fact , there is a huge section of society that is neglected, unloved and uncared. Speaking to most of them, I realised it takes very little to change your circumstances which made me appreciate more what I have in life, a close family, friends and the small things in life.
Many of them were incredibly intelligent, articulate and opinionated. I had many questions and probably still do but most importantly my time them was all about making them feel loved and respected and enjoying their company in every activity I was involved with.
Its all about giving they say, but what one doesn’t realise is how much they get out of the experience, well I did. And I’m sure to go back again.
I left feeling with a real spirit of Christmas, an inner joy and satisfaction not even the buffets or gifts can buy !