Crime Scene? (Soup Kitchen Diaries #12)

Here We go Again

It’s getting cold and Haringey Churches Winter Shelter programme has been running since early December now covering Enfield as well. I am asked which three weekends I can help as I normally do the overnight shift from Saturday night to Sunday morning. This means 8 hours watch split between three people and we normally leave just after 8 am when everyone has had a cooked breakfast and beds, mattresses, pillows etc have been stacked away.

Arriving just after 10 pm, three guys are outside having a smoke. Other volunteers who have set all the beds out and provided an evening meal have all left except two. Tonight we have 10 male guests varying in age from twenties to 70. Some background is given about a couple of guests who might need some extra attention. One keeps very much to himself and might wish to leave early, while the other elderly one is a bit nervous and might need a bit of TLC. If the former wants to leave that’s OK but he cannot be readmitted while the other guy wants to be woken up early at 5.45 am.

Three beds are made for the three overnight volunteers where a third lady volunteer is expected, so the beds have been made up in two separate rooms. The other male volunteer is a Pastor who still has a day job in IT. He has purchased a lot of warm clothing very cheaply and some of this is stacked in neat piles on a table. He hands out some fleeces and is told that he can park his car off road in the forecourt of the church, which is where I have parked mine.

And then there were Two

Lights are due to go out at 11 pm and the organiser mentions that one guy hasn’t been seen for ages, so we go to go upstairs check the shower. Just as we get there he comes out feeling much refreshed and in a few minutes, all the guests are in bed. One is reading a hardback Historiae Angliae but in a few minutes, all have their heads down.

No lady volunteer and no response to the organiser’s messages to her, so the hours 11 pm to lights-on 7 am are split between yours truly and the Pastor. Rather than 2 hours alternate, Pastor elects to do the first shift of 4 hours. Sleep eludes me and I have to relearn the art of sleeping on an inflatable mattress, where if one turns over too quickly one ends up in a heap on the floor.

3 am arrives so now it is my turn. With a small reading light, I take my place in the huge darkened hall where the noises of 10 sleeping men are the only sound and much useful reading is done.

The TLC guy asks me the time which is 4.15 am and reminds me of his request for a 5.45 am call. Pastor has asked to be woken at 6.45 am and I have to remember to switch the urn on for the tea at 6 am as it takes ages to warm up.

Wakey, Wakey

Near 7 am, the bodies stir. The lady who cooks breakfast has started her work and the laundry for one Balkan guy is taken out of the tumble dryer and given to him. The loner guy who did not leave early after all, gets up and leaves before breakfast is served. The lady volunteer who was supposed to be there sends a message saying no one opened the door when she knocked but it’s obvious she did not follow instructions, either going to the wrong church or wrong entrance.

Guests are all served, and we start putting the bedding and stuff away. A couple of guests wish us a Happy New Year and we are given leave to go just after 8am

It’s A Crime Scene, Guv

Blinking in the daylight, Pastor and I are stopped by yards of Police Crime Tape. There was an incident around midnight where a guy was stabbed and gunshots were fired. The victim has been rushed to hospital but the crime scene of 200 yards of pavement has to stay “sterile” until a special team has gone over it. This will take hours so while we can go out onto the High Street escorted, our vehicles are stuck. Pastor has arranged to meet his family at Heathrow which is now a two-hour journey away and yours truly has a one-hour bus journey to get home.

A 101 (non-emergency) phone call around 1 pm quoting the CAB reference number the young constable has given me, inform me that the scene is still being investigated. They promise to call me when the crime scene is open meaning I can drive home. My loved whose car I have borrowed, is not pleased as she has visions of her 4-wheel pride and joy riddled with bullets and where is Tottenham anyway?

Another 101 call at 3 pm tells me that the crime scene has not shrunk and that there is no way that the vehicle will be released before 6 pm. Fortunately, Pastor has used his initiative and gone down there plus it will be getting dark soon and at 4.15 pm, he calls me to tell me that he has his vehicle. Just before my arrival nearly two hours later, another shift has taken over. No, my vehicle cannot be released even when I explain that the Pastor recently drove off in his car, but 10 minutes of consultation with his superiors and giving my details for the third time that day, finally allow me to drive off.

The victim is now out of danger apparently, so all’s well that ends well.

Want to get involved? All People All Places, Hands on London your local church or St Mungo’s

George Emsden
Now retired, George is busier than ever: working through an OU Maths & Physics degree, blogs, volunteering at Muswell Hill Soup Kitchen and Haringey Winter Shelter plus being a very proud granddad.