Homelessness, an issue that is prevalent in society, yet often ignored, except by those who want change.
Hidden away from the sound of neighbouring streets, a tiny glow beams from St. Alban’s Church in Bournemouth.
Walking through the doors, those who have travelled miles on this crisp and cold winter’s night feel the first rush of warm air. This is Hope for Food’s Saturday soup kitchen run entirely by volunteers.
Louie, a former painter and decorator, visits the soup kitchen three times a week. Wearing a chequered shirt, warm jumper, long coat, jeans and shiny boots, Louie looks smart, not what society would expect. With him he carries a backpack filled with essentials such as his bus pass and beret.
Louie takes a seat, away from the hustle and bustle of the hall, relaxing back into the bench.
Openly, he reveals that the soup kitchens are an important life life: “If the soup kitchens weren’t around I’d struggle. I come here to socialise.”
Louie lost his disability allowance in May 2016 and is now unemployed, living in a council flat.
Thankfully, Louie heard about the soup kitchens through the BH1 Community Project run by the Salvation Army. This project aims to help people in the community, regardless of their backgrounds.
The charity was established in 2012 by Claire Matthews and aims to provide essentials such as food and shelter to people in need. By reaching out to the public and asking for donations, the charity is able to help the homeless and those on low income.
“These are the ones that really need the food,” explained Claire, “they’ve walked a mile and a half in the rain to get here.”
As you walk inside, the tables are laid and guests dig into warm, crusty French bread.
As the evening progresses, each table fills and the hum of chat prevails. Dedicated volunteers dish out generous plates of hot food one after the other. As this happens, the smell of the homemade pasta bake and cottage pie is absorbed into the lungs of those sitting down to enjoy it.
Colourful and warm jumpers, coats, jeans, scarves, socks and sleeping bags take up a section of the hall. These items of donated clothing are there for people to try on and keep.
Mary, a volunteer since January, is in charge of handing out items of clothing. She explains that the charity tries to be fair in giving people the items they need.
Alongside the clothes stall sits an impressive table filled with food donated from Waitrose and Marks and Spencer. Here, those in need are able to take food away from the church, including bagels, homemade cakes and fruit.
“The council are not interested at all, all they do is critisize”
Clearly the soup kitchens provide the necessities to those in need. However, Louie expressed his disappointment at the council’s efforts to support soup kitchens. “The council are not interested at all, all they do is critisize,” said Louie, “all they seem to do is get the homeless people out of Bournemouth and back to where they came from. It’s people like Claire that want to help and she’s helping people the best she can.”
Louise Gawronska, an employee at Cala Homes, volunteers with the national charity for homeless, Crisis. Like Louie, Louise believes that there is more that could be done by councils: “It can’t fall on the case of the charities to help.”
Louise explains that the Homeless Reduction Bill is currently going through parliament, which aims to provide more support for the homeless.
However, as a nation, we need to do more to tackle the rising issue of homelessness.
At any point in our lives, we could find ourselves in an unfortunate position. So, instead of perceiving homelessness as an issue that needn’t concern us, people need go out into the community and make a difference.
Little things like buying somebody on the streets a sandwich or pointing them in the direction of a soup kitchen, are ways Claire suggests we can help.
Also, volunteering at a local soup kitchen and taking the time to learn about the lives of those less fortunate than us are just small steps that can massively reduce the stigma behind homelessness.
In offering a listening ear and helpful hand we can help change lives.
Remember, those in need of help are no less human than us.