Last Thursday I volunteered for the first time with a group that feeds and clothes the homeless in Cardiff. As the evening approached I began to feel nervous, as I didn’t know what to expect, but there was no need to be apprehensive.
What I was greeted with when I arrived was a group of people. As simple as that, a group of people.
Wrapped up against the cold weather, it was hard to distinguish the volunteers from the recipients (in fact as I was handing around cups of coffee I offered one to an organiser!). It wasn’t just because everyone mingled together, chatting about the food and clothing on offer, making small talk about the weather, and sharing life stories, but because the reality is that someone who is homeless is no different to you or I, they just don’t have a house to call their own – and that could happen to any of us.
I spent a long time speaking with a man who told me he would never have dreamt ten years ago that he would ever end up in that position. He had been living in a penthouse suite in Cardiff Bay with his girlfriend, and the pair thought they were better than the other residents in the block of flats because their apartment was bigger.
But then the credit crunch hit. He defaulted on his mortgage repayments, his partner left him, and he found himself living on the streets.
Thankfully his story has a happy ending, he has just been told that he is getting a flat in Grangetown and he couldn’t be more grateful. His focus now is on getting a job.
But sadly, for so many, homelessness can lead to other problems like poor mental health and alcoholism. The reality of life on the streets is just too much for some to cope with.
Small acts of kindness though, like giving someone a sandwich or a pair of socks, can make a massive difference. If you can’t do that, a smile goes a long way too. Often all people need to know is that someone out there cares.
So next time someone asks you for some change please don’t ignore them. Acknowledge their request, even if it’s just to say ‘no, sorry’.
You’ll be amazed at the effect it can have.