CENTRAL MANCHESTER HOMELESS BLOG
I've been working with Barnabus Manchester since October 2016. Barnabus are a Christian charity who do vital work with homeless people and people in danger of becoming homeless. Based in the centre of the Gay Village, itself the heart of Manchester. When I approached them with my idea of a drama/art project 'My Wildest Dreams' they welcomed me with open arms. I have spent several days at the drop in centre, getting to know the volunteers and the friends from the street that they support. It has been a huge learning curve for me. Here is a little bit about Barnabus from their website and a link to a video...
This year Barnabus has reached a landmark 25 years Anniversary of providing life-changing support to the homeless. Barnabus is a Christian Homeless Charity based in Manchester. We started with just one man walking the streets, giving out food and drink to the homeless.
We now offer a lifeline to 600 visiting homeless and vulnerable people each week, many of whom have severe addictions or mental health issues. We support their physical, emotional and spiritual needs and do all we can to help them get back into mainstream society. We have received the 'unsung heroes' Queens award for Voluntary Service, but we do not receive any government funding, we rely entirely on donations.
The wild, weird and wonderful world of Barnabus...
Over the weeks that I have been visiting Barnabus I have been truly humbled, at times puzzled, at times angry. Always inspired. I have laughed often, cried too as I've sat and chatted with the homeless and vulnerable friends that make a point of visiting Barnabus regularly for much needed help. The days I visit split into two main sessions; morning, from 10.30 till 1pm people can come and get a warm breakfast and as many cups of tea or coffee and biscuits that they want. (Tea is almost always served with a lot of sugar, I've seen six spoonful's in a cup, I've heard tell of NINE! Sugar is a vital energy giver to those on the street) People are also able to get a shower and some clean clothes, see a nurse, get their hair cut, and see someone who can help finding somewhere to live. Most of all they come to get off the street for a few hours, chat to a friendly face, find comfort. In the afternoons from 2 till 4 different types of session happen each day. I go on a Wednesday and Wednesday afternoon is the over 40's session. This is an attempt to create a calm atmosphere where people can come and chat, play games together, listen to a bit of music, drink tea and perhaps unwind a little.
In the mornings I have found myself looking after the clothes store and showers, as well as general triage and serving tea and coffee. At the clothes store you get to see people in great need. Often someone is wearing all the clothes they own, of course they need new, clean clothes. We offer one complete set from underwear through to coat. But it is not easy, the centre relies on donations but I have often run out and have to send people away disappointed. Trousers less than 34 waist are like gold dust. Homeless people are rarely large, most want 30 inch waist and I am constantly going to the store room down the street trying to find them. Hoodies are another thing much needed, and we could never have too many shoes. A few heart-breaking moments that have stuck in my mind are:
1. A woman came to me in a bit of a state, she could not speak a lot of English (I've been surprised by the high proportion of non-English speaking homeless in Manchester, this lady is Polish) her boyfriend was having to translate for her. As the majority of homeless people are male it seems that women's clothes are not donated as much as men's and so it is often hard to cloth the women. This woman wanted a whole new outfit and she wanted to look smart, as I offered her clothes she often got quite distressed if she thought the clothes wouldn't suit her. Some people might think 'beggars can't be choosers' but that horrible statement is really not appropriate of course. Just because you have no money doesn't mean you have no pride or taste. Anyway, her boyfriend told me she was due to visit her daughter for the first time in ages and so she wanted to look smart.
2. We spotted a homeless man wondering past the centre one morning, he was off his head on drugs and alcohol and didn't really know where he was. We noticed he had no belt and his trousers were falling down. He was a mess and it was heart-breaking to watch as he tried and failed to buckle the belt we gave him. He had to be helped. A man of perhaps 40, he couldn't even do up his own belt.
3.When people have a shower and get new clothes they often give us their old clothes saying 'someone could use these' we don't tell them but we have to put all these clothes in the rubbish as we couldn't possibly give them to anyone else.
4. A young lad came up to me one morning wanting a suit and tie. It is not uncommon for one of the friends to need to look smart for an interview or some such but this man was going on a date, and boy did he want to impress! We didn't have any suits but we did find a nice pair of trousers and a jacket, shirt and tie and he left us full of optimism!
TO BE CONTINUED...