Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Kieran I want to help at a soup kitchen

I started writing things I’d like to have done before I’m 30; Milk a cow, Learn to Eskimo roll a kayak, Have a go on a Unicycle etc But this all seemed a bit self indulgent. So I asked friends and family what they want me to do for them that I can add to the list…Kieran I want (read about it here)

As most of you probably know I don’t need a lot of persuasion to go on a little jaunt around the country so when Iron and Wine tickets came up for Leeds, a place I’ve past through and been too on a number of occasions on a day trip but never been for an eve, I jumped at the chance.

Leeds has all the charm and character of Cardiff with its arcades and markets, is city that you can easily walk around and as we were out on paddy’s day was full of plastic paddy’s celebrating the event sponsored by Guinness.

The gig was ace, the night out brilliant. Highlights include:

Real ale at Whitelocks – an old world, real ale pub a world away from its bizarre location – just down an alleyway off the busiest shopping street in Leeds

When Iron and Wine played ‘Women King’

Bad dancing in the bars on Call lane

Trying to explain to someone what a falafel is (they don’t exist in Leeds apparently)

Joel trying to get Colin to suck the corporate nipple of McDonalds and get chips

And the vintage shops filled with delights (but it’s too easy to fall foul to sensory overload and end up leaving with nowt)

Anyway as Colin and Joel drove up further north for a stag do I went down to Manchester to visit Hayley. Ironically this timed in nicely with Hayley’s regular soup kitchen volunteering as feeding the homeless is on my list, so Friday night we went down to a charity to help out on their soup run.

I have never buttered so much bread or seen a kitchen so well organised and slick; we loaded the van with an assortment of hot and cold foods and went to their usual spot under the railway arches where a crowd had already started to assemble.

Aside from a minor scuffle at the start the people were polite and grateful and sometimes surprisingly picky. We perched on the edge of the lorry and dished out sandwiches and had a chat to those who wanted to talk. Some take food and disappear back into the night while others hang around for a natter.

What ever people’s thoughts or perceptions on the homeless it is startling to realise how close we all are to being on the streets – apparently its less than three missed mortgage payments away from homelessness, how being made redundant, an unexpected tragic situation or change in social circumstances can see you on the streets. No one knows how we react to future situations; how losing work can knock you out of society, a break up can tear your world apart, a death can make you fall off the tracks, or an illness becomes a barrier or reducing you to being incapable to support yourself. All issues that people talked openly about. Introducing myself to one chap, he visibly took a step back. He had a neck chain with Kieran on it, his little boy, a twin, died of cot death and he hadn’t recovered from his death. How may of us can honestly say that if we found ourselves faced with some of the problems or issues that these people have been through that we wouldn’t find ourselves in the same situation; guys and girls my age, older and younger each with a story about why and how they ended up on the streets.

It struck me how importantly I would rely on family and friends if faced with becoming homeless. But then if those social structures are not in place or have been dismantled due to disagreements, breakups, abuse, or whatever then what do you do? Its support structures like this and many other charities that are essential.

For the last ten minutes I really started to feel the cold, until then as stupid as it sounds I didn’t think about where or what people would do after collecting sandwiches, fruit, some curry or drinks. A small gang of the group were talking about the village or the garden, in any other context on a Friday night you could imagine that those are names for pubs and we were all off for a Friday drink together. But I assume these are not pubs but gardens were they would spend the eve. As we were walking back my hands and feet felt chilly, I cannot begin to imagine what nights on the street really entail.

Yes, many seemed to be on something or filled with drink but again how many of us can say that if we were in a similar situation and had to go through the night on the streets that we wouldn’t take to something to numb the pain, not just of the cold but of whatever problems made them take to the streets in the first instance.

In total we probably saw about 30-60 people, the charity said that they are seeing more and more as the recession bites. I know I am simplifying the evening and helping out once isn’t making a huge difference, but back in the flat with a roof and friends around its hard not to get overly sentimental about the simple things in life.

Each week I try and buy the Big Issue. I have a regular lady that I buy from and she explains that it is a way to help her back on her feet, through it she has been able to go to job interviews and is trying to find work. The Big Issue exists to offer homeless and vulnerably housed people the opportunity to earn a legitimate income. Vendors buy for £1 and sell to the public for £2, keeping £1 for themselves:

‘We believe in offering ‘a hand up, not a hand out’, but we also recognise that earning an income is the first step on the journey away from homelessness. The Big Issue Foundation is a registered charity which exists to link vendors with the vital support which will help them address the issues which have led to their homelessness. The Foundation works exclusively with vendors, offering support, advice and referrals’.

If you are interested to know more about their work visit

Please support their vendors.

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