Help the homeless with Crisis
Crisis at Christmas opened their doors to a record-breaking 4,000 homeless people over the holidays and more than 10,000 volunteers offered their time and services to give shelter, food, massages and so much more to people in need.
“As clichéd as it sounds, I’ve been so lucky to have a wonderful family, lovely food and great presents at Christmas but I know not everyone is that lucky,” says Ella Rose, one of the 10,000 volunteers at Crisis at Christmas.
“Things that I’d always taken for granted like hot showers, heating, a roof over my head, some people don’t have the luxury of having and I guess it didn’t feel right to be having an indulgent Christmas when I could still have a brilliant Christmas whilst helping someone else to have a lovely Christmas too,” says Ella.
During the holidays the national charity for single homeless people, Crisis, opened five day-centres in London. They were spread out around the city with centres in Homerton, King’s Cross, Hammersmith, Bermondsey and Deptford. These day-centres were open from December 22nd to December 30th.
Before Ella was sixteen, the minimum age for being a general volunteer at Crisis at Christmas, she was already on board with helping the homeless.
“I remember years ago asking my mum if she knew any homeless charities I could help out at. She told me about Crisis Christmas and as soon as I was eligible, my brother, mum and I signed up to the North London centre,” she says.
Ella, who is now 21 and in her final year of studying English Language and Literature at Leeds University, has been volunteering for Crisis at Christmas every year since. She says that there’s nothing close to a ‘normal’ day at Crisis but that’s part of the appeal for her.
“One day I could be supervising the dining area, making sure it is clean, interacting with guests, providing tea and snacks, coordinating the volunteers in my area, and doing a table dinner service,” she says.
“The next day I could spend the whole day helping a single guest, for example if they are vulnerable and could do with a friendly, consistent face to stay with them and support them,” she continues. “There have been times when I’ve built up a relationship with a particular guest, so when they’ve needed extra assistance, it has made sense for me to stick with them.”
Ella says the reactions from people visiting the centres are mostly positive and that it’s difficult not to get emotionally involved with some of the visitors.
“There are guests I have met that I know I will never forget,” she says. “When someone looks you in the eyes and just says ‘thank you’, and you know that they really mean it, that’s great too. I’ve made loads of friends over the years and occasionally we have guests that come back as volunteers, which is absolutely fantastic.
“We want the guests to feel respected because one of the things you learn at Crisis is that homelessness can happen to anyone, so we make sure not to judge anyone or make assumptions about their circumstances. I’ve even had a few marriage proposals in my six years, so I guess I must be doing something right!”
Being a volunteer at Crisis at Christmas might not suit everyone according to Ella but it’s not something she will give up anytime soon.
“Crisis is a family,” she says. “Our team tries to stay in touch over the year and it is one of the highlights of my year going back to see them. Crisis does so much fantastic work and just to be a little cog in their big Crisis machine really is an honour.
“There’s also always room to improve,” she continues. “You spot things that could be done better next year, or ways that you could have performed some of your tasks better, and then you go back and try to do a better job and make the centre run better.”
Rachael Smith, the Deputy Head of Crisis at Christmas, has nothing but praise for all the volunteers who made the days possible.
“We are really lucky to have the support not only of older volunteers who have been involved with Crisis at Christmas for a number of years, but also of hundreds of young people,” she says.
“It is crucial that we are able to continue to engage younger generations in our work to end homelessness, as young people themselves continue to be affected by the economic downturn and deep cuts to housing benefit.”
Text: Kajsa Wall