steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Charity Cases

A friend of mine who lives a few doors up the road is a nurse in A&E. At Christmas she volunteers to work in a homeless shelter in the St Paul's area, and, inspired by her example, this year I've volunteered to dip a toe in the water with a shift on Christmas Eve. Of course, the yapping demons of vanity were immediately on the case ("You might get material for a story!" "It will be just like the March girls visiting the Hummels!"); but while there's no way to shut them up entirely, I'm learning to tune them out.

Normally the shelter is open for five nights a week, but over Christmas they get extra volunteers and stay open for eight days, 24/7. It turns out they get a lot of volunteers. I went to one of the induction sessions today, and there must have been about two hundred people there. Last year they had 600 people helping over the week, and handed out some 2,500 meals.

And this is strange, because according to Government statistics there are only 9 rough sleepers in the whole of Bristol. They must have been very hungry.

Admittedly, not everyone who comes to the hostel is a rough sleeper: most are amongst the "hidden homeless". But according to the workers at the hostel today, the Government's method of collecting data on rough sleepers involves driving around in a car and counting the people who are literally lying down on a bench or in a sleeping bag. If they're standing, or sitting, or kneeling, they're clearly not homeless. If they're in a park or an underpass, or somewhere else out of sight, then they don't exist at all.

Lest you think it anomalous that the UK's eighth largest city should have only 9 rough sleepers, the even better news from Eric Pickles's department is that the second largest city, Birmingham, has only 8.

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