At Saturday the 12th of October I joined local volunteers helping homeless and vulnerable in our community – Help the Homeless group lead by already well known in Newport Tariq Khan (local hero and spine of the community, like many say) and Debbie Witts, leader of Cardiff group (Help the Homeless Cardiff). These two groups decided to collaborate and support each other, because together we can do more, right? We met at 8pm on Friday at Tariq’s hub/shop and the plan was to join the other groups feeding local homeless at the car park under the bridge, not far from the Bus Station and help as well by giving some clothes if needed and having a friendly chat. We finished around 11pm at the car park, came back to the hub for a hot drink and after we took our sleeping bags and choose one of the doorway at the city centre to spent a night there in solidarity with homeless people and to rise awareness and support them. We finished at 8am on Saturday. The rules were no food and staying there till morning next day. And so we did.
I must say, it was a day full of emotions and I still can not get over it. It really moved me and changed my perception. Yes, many were drug addicts. Yes, probably some continue to take drugs I believe (seen one of the person’s leg covered in bruises and marks from needles) but what stack me the most was the atmosphere under the bridge and friendliness from both homeless and volunteers. You forget about addictions and all bad impressions and concentrate on what’s here and now. It felt good to give someone warm, clean jumper and trousers. The happiness on the face – priceless. It felt good to have a longer conversation with one of the man. His story was sad and moving. I thought he was a volunteer first, didn’t look like a homeless person. I guess I was expecting scruffy and neglected looks only.
The food disappeared quickly – proper home made food with dessert, and hot drinks – tea or coffee. There were many small local groups helping homeless. H.O.P.E – Helping Open People’s Eyes, some vegan group feeding homeless sometime in a week, two our groups, Spectrum Homeless Project and I think one more, but could be wrong. HOPE and Spectrum were feeding people that night and we came with drinks and clothes. One of the core people is Rhiannon (lady at the photo on the bottom, on the right – in white jumper) who started preparing food first time in 2017. At first she was feeding between 20-30 people, this year approx 60-80 people will need help. The groups rely on donations and any help they can get.
I not only met homeless people and volunteers but also someone who almost ended up being homeless. Was saved by a friend. Once ”successful” person but something happened in life, like I does sometimes and everything was gone. If not a friend, could be much worst. There was also a man who was homeless in a past, but managed to get away from this life and is helping others now. At 11pm was time to go back to the hub and then sleep on the street.
Sleeping at the doorway, in the city centre, was the hardest part. It started raining when we arrived. The floor was cold and hard. I was having only my sleeping bag. Tariq gave me one of his pillows. The atmosphere was very friendly. We did few live videos. We exchanged our opinions and feelings we had so far. By WE I mean me, Tariq, Debbie, Jane, Emma and Helen. Us six slept that night. We had some extra company for a while – Vincent ( very generous and caring man on a wheelchair, who came with his own banner calling for not ignoring disabled rough sleepers), Hazel and Steven.
The most unexpected thing which happened that night was the interaction with homeless people when we tried to sleep. One man stopped and was chatting with us. You could feel he just needed someone to listen to him. He wasn’t denying the mistakes he did, but also he feels like there is not enough help for homeless people at the moment. It is all about survival, this life is about being invisible for local authorities and society. He said: Nobody chooses to be homeless. He had a life. He had been in a relationship and he has a son who is about 12 years old. He was having a decent salary £25k in his previous ”normal” life. The other homeless person helped one of ours at night. He gave Jane his own duvet so she won’t be freezing cold. It was a nice gesture. He also thanked us for what we were doing. All of them appreciated it and it was meaningful at the end. We all managed to have some sleep at the end. All together I slept maybe 1.5 hour. I woke up with my feet being wet in the morning and when I woke up in the morning my first instinct was to go to the toilet, but there are not public toilet in a city centre and the Friars walk was closed and too far. I decided to hold it till I get back home, and I did. Otherwise I would have to do it on somewhere on the street I assume.
This experience was very rewarding and made me think a lot. I know I will be coming back to interact with homeless and volunteers more. I really want to do more and be involved more. They only person I knew when I arrived was Tariq and it was a pleasure to meet everybody else. I wish more people would experience what we experienced. I wish more people would do what I did. Yes, there are many issues and negativity around people with addictions, but somehow you see them in a different light after such night. You feel more compassionate and understanding. You see their life is hard, complicated and on the edge already. They battle not just addiction but also often mental health issues and being excluded from society. They are being seen as problems and not humans. We pass them everyday. We call them names – junkies, drugies, we want to get rid of them because they don’t fit our ”normal” society. But they are still humans at the end, humans lost in their addictions and own problems. All volunteering groups need more support from local authorities as well, because so far not much is happening and the issue can’t be simply ignored anymore.
Thank You. Kamila