Can you help this weekend?
Having got used to rising at 5am on a Sunday to work at a homeless shelter, my help is requested overnight on the Saturdays for this month. With a light calendar, I volunteer for two of them and am told to turn up at 9.45 pm. Several set-up volunteers are there and after 15 minutes, many of them go home for their night’s sleep. There are 8 guests. These are admitted at 8pm when doors open, but closed to further guests at 8.30 pm. A cooked meal is given and by the time I arrive, many of them are lying on their beds and have changed into their sleeping clothes. Again there are no ladies and three beds have been made up for the overnight crew in an adjoining room.
The Daily Telegraph and The Sun are on the tables where the guests eat but the DT has not been opened. Four of us are chatting in one group but another young guy is on his own at the other end of the table. On joining him, the reason is immediately apparent – he is deaf. Not knowing any sign language, the two of us are able to start a short conversation using the DT as a notepad. His home is far from London and he is on the streets after being kicked out of his home after a row with his family. Even worse, he is now unemployed as his 1 year contract as an Adviser to Deaf People with a publicly-funded office, has not been renewed. He mentions his CV, leading me to ask what sort of job does he want? An accountant, he replies but doesn’t seem to know what sort: bookkeeper, ACA, ACCA, ACMA or Tax accountant or have heard of any of these. Chat continues. What did you want to be when you were at school? A policeman he replies, but immediately tells me he couldn’t possibly do that as he would not be able to hear the radio. Have you actually applied? No.
This seems a good time to mention Disability Discrimination legislation and he makes a couple of notes to ask on his next visit to the Job Centre. Where do you go in the daytime after the shelter closes? Walk around to keep warm and spend a lot of time in public libraries – seems a waste.
No Calculator Required
Three of us are staying overnight, so it’s time to work out the shifts. Lights go off at 11pm and are switched on again at 7am. That of course is 8 hours meaning 8/3 or 2 and 2/3rds hours per person, all done without a calculator. I get the last shift from 4 am onwards.
Besides feeding guests, laundry is offered and 8 plastic bags are in the kitchen each labled with the guest’s name. If the washing is started in the evening there is plenty of time for everyone’s clothes to be washed and dried. However, a mild emergency disrupts this and washing only starts very late. One of the guests is a diabetic and is not feeling well having not taken his medication for weeks. A decision is made to take him to the local hospital. As we drop him off at A&E he is given two telephone numbers: the organiser’s one if he is kept in overnight and mine if he needs collecting later. His insulin needs to be kept in a refrigerator. So why hasn’t he been taking it? You’ve guessed it, the guy’s homeless and he hasn’t got one.
First shift comes and goes with yours truly being told to be quiet after 15 minutes of snoring. Then it’s 1.50 am in the second shift and my mobile rings. Our guest has been discharged so I get dressed to pick him up from A&E. After being put on a drip in A&E he has now been given instructions to report to his GP on Monday and to be allocated to a social worker.
Then it’s my turn in the kitchen and with the washing machine and tumble dryer going, it’s much warmer in there than the allotted bedroom. Seems ironic that my main duty seems to be a sort of widow Twankee trying to get the laundry done, rather than my imagined duty of staying awake in case any of the guests; had a seizure, had a heart-attack or starting murdering each other. It’s nice and warm in there and the mind wanders.
….Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday, We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning….
Washing machine still going, tumble dryer running and something about paint drying pops into my head. Mind drifts again, reminding me of the interesting dimension that a load of laundry and a paperback added to my student life – two occasions spring to mind.
Once when I sit down with my paperback, a lady and the launderette manager are having a row about a ruined baby doll nightdress. I bought this to please my husband and I’ve only worn it once! the buxom young lady complains. Excuses about we can’t check every single garment are of no use, and after 10 minutes of wrangling the manager gets some money out of the till. Pleased with her victory and nose in the air, she breezes out the shop making me hope that her husband appreciated the replacement.
Another occasion, and an attractive blonde married lady sits near me - we start chatting. Something tells me this is not just for my looks, and sure enough after 10 minutes she wants to tell me about Jesus. Having had a rather intensive religious upbringing, these entreaties fall on stony ground and she reluctantly puts her Bible away.
Maybe I should watch that film again? Sweet Dreams.