Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Volunteer crisis

May 23 2009
Other Crisis volunteers and guests tell a reader that the day centres were well-nigh useless to guests who needed somewhere to stay Dear Editor, I wanted to pass on my experiences as a first-time Crisis Christmas volunteer. I was assigned to Day Centre 1 in Finsbury Park, attending the morning shifts (7am-3pm) on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The first thing that struck me was how far out the centre was. On Christmas Day, with all transport paused and being unable to drive, I was lucky enough to inveigle lifts each way, but I don't know how the guests would have managed to get there without walking some distance. It felt like a real community effort, and it was really inspiring to witness the good will; but it was dismaying to soon find that the volunteers significantly outnumbered the guests. Although the Key Volunteers and Green Badges did their best to keep us busy, organising around 200 volunteers (on Christmas Day) with military precision and making sure we were never in one position for longer than a few hours, there were often six of us guarding one door or four poised around one shower cubicle. Teams of enthusiastic volunteers armed with mops and buckets probably left the centre cleaner than when Crisis first took it over, but it meant that groups of people were constantly being shepherded from one room to another. I'm sure any guests would have found that this, if not intimidating, was enough to make them feel self-conscious. The word from other volunteers and from guests I spoke to was that the centre was well-nigh useless to guests since they needed somewhere to stay overnight. I am aware that Crisis wanted to dedicate its main centres to rough sleepers, but how useful are the day centres? Are they enough when you have to leave at 10pm on cold December evening? I volunteered because I wanted to meet people and perhaps make a difference, so I was disappointed that instead I spent a lot of time standing around, and am debating how "useful" I would be if I volunteered again. This time I wasn't able to come back later in the festive period, but I can imagine that if I had signed up to do the whole week, I would have found the first few days pretty discouraging. It may have been a "dry run", but how can Crisis justify allowing so many volunteers to turn up, for so few guests? Are they intending to run similar day centres next year? And are they being sufficiently advertised among the homeless community? It seemed a shame to "waste" the numbers of volunteers who turned up. Perhaps they, rather than the guests, could have been bussed to different centres! Full name supplied Via email