Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Crisis critique

May 18 2009
Did rough sleepers get a raw deal at this year‘s Open Christmas? Dear Editor, Being a rough sleeper, I have attended several Crisis Open Christmases (COC) over the years, but last year (2007), it seemed that rough sleepers were not really treated fairly. According to the pamphlets issued by Crisis, priority would to be given to rough sleepers, but that did not happen. Some colleagues and I went to the City Road shelter at 2:15 pm on Sunday 23rd, the opening day, to get a referral to the Temple shelter at Maltravers Street. Getting the referral was simple enough, but we had to wait several hours before one of the Crisis buses took us there. Seven minibuses were waiting outside the main centre at 6:00pm and had been for over an hour, yet no apparent attempt was made to coordinate the people who wanted to go to the various referral shelters with the transport waiting to take them there. This was very frustrating for us and for the drivers. On finally arriving at the Temple, we were told the shelter was full. How could that happen when it was meant to be by referral only? One of the Green Badges [volunteers] told us that Westminster City Council had put a limit on the numbers allowed into the site. Many of us were turned away and told to try another shelter (which, again, highlights the mockery of the referral system) or told to wait and see if any vacancies arose at the Temple site. It seems that despite Crisis's claims that there only one walk-in shelter, the Temple site was also a walk-in centre. It quickly became full of the non-street homeless. I eventually got access, but many of my colleagues - who were, by now, disgusted by the day's events - didn't bothered to return to COC. Fortunately, the Connection at St Martin's offered limited services to rough sleepers over the Christmas period, and we had somewhere to go for hot food and showers. Well done, St Martin's! Many rough sleepers were deterred by having their bags searched each time they arrived at the COC Temple site. Many of us prefer to return to the streets at night because we do not like the dormitory-style sleeping arrangements at Crisis. On returning to the site on the following morning(s), we were again subjected to bag searches. I understand the need for security, but this was very annoying. It proved too much hassle for some rough sleepers, who simply walked away. Surely Crisis realises that many rough sleepers carry a lot of luggage? Why couldn't Crisis open a left-luggage store outside the main arena so that luggage could go directly into storage without the need for extensive searches. Anyone wanting to take their luggage into the main building could then be expected to undergo a thorough search. I am grateful for the overall Crisis Open Christmas event, and I appreciate that financial restraints and site availability determine much of the COC activity. But the decline in services provided over recent years is becoming increasingly noticeable to the users and to the volunteers who have done previous years. Many volunteers spent last year sitting in empty corridors doing nothing more than watch fire doors. On the subject of fire regulations, the alarms at the Temple site sounded on numerous occasions, but the building was evacuated only once. This must surely be a matter of concern for the organisers of last year's event. It was for me, and despite the confusion caused by the Green Badges giving contradictory instructions to the guests on hearing the alarm, I vacated the premises on each occasion. Crisis Open Christmas is a charitable event, but maybe a fundamental rethink would be in order for next Christmas to establish exactly who the event is primarily for. More consideration for the rough sleepers who don't have the luxury of a 'freedom pass' and who travel to the venue on foot would help. And bear in mind that most rough sleepers carry personal luggage and do not want it laid bare for all to see. 'Outsider' (full name provided) Dear Outsider, We'll put you letter to the organizers of Crisis Open Christmas, and ask them to comment on some of your criticisms. Editor
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