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Volunteering at Crisis for Christmas – At Last

posted 21 Feb 2015, 12:15 by Crossways Dorking
Finally, after many years I acted on what had been on my heart for a long time, but had only told Tim. I told mum just before Christmas that I was volunteering she said “what’s taken you so long, I wondered when you would”.

My day job is as a Podiatrist or Chiropodist for the NHS, so I offered some of my time over Christmas providing foot care treatments to the homeless guests of Crisis. Crisis is a national charity for single homeless people, aiming to change the lives of the homeless for good and to also change the way society thinks and acts towards homeless people.

Crisis at Christmas provides shelter at 10 centres around London – either in warehouse space, colleges, dedicated shelters or within Drug and Alcohol Dependency Units.

This year, during the week, 30,000 meals were served to 3,600 guests and facilities such as beds, hot food, showers, IT cafes, creative workshops, theatre visits, football sessions, advice on housing and immigration and 656 health consultations were provided.

I didn’t know where I was working until the bus came – my sessions were in Hackney and Hammersmith. Crisis was highly organised and security tight (which we were very glad on one occasion!)

Some guests did not want to give their names – their choice, no problem – but from a healthcare perspective we did ask whether they had a drug or alcohol dependency or blood bourne disease. My team offered treatment, foot care advice and new socks and worked alongside doctors, dentists and opticians.

Of those guests I treated, it was a 50:50 split between men and women, British and immigrant, age range 20-65 years. Many guests walked around all day, some 20 miles per day. I heard stories of losing everything from gambling, retrieving clothes and shoes from waste bins on Oxford Street, watching a dropped Tesco voucher for 3 hours before handing it in to the police, the thieving in the hostels, dreaming of walking over the hills (not the streets), and escaping reality by making music. I also learnt that beige socks are not acceptable as a free gift – only black ones please!

I was reassured that there is access (limited) healthcare in London during the year – not just at Christmas. However they, like everyone else I know appreciate the opportunity to talk and be listened to and to have that opportunity to regain their own self respect and that of other people.

The experience was hard work, chaotic and unpredictable, great fun and a great privilege to be able to share my skills to those who are, often through no fault of their own, on the fringe of acceptable society and to whom we are called to serve.

Cathy Stevens