Friday, 31 December 2010

Thank you to all who helped make Christmas a little more bearable for the unloved, the outcasts, the unseen members of our society

This is a thank you note from my daughter, Catherine, a nurse, who gave up her Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to spend it with a host of other like minded individuals, nursing, feeding and generally attending to the needs of those who have fallen through the net of society and who live in appalling conditions, on the streets. Yes, on the streets in temperatures of 12 degrees below freezing and when ownership of a woolly hat or an umbrella takes on life saving proportions.

But, this is Catherine's story:-

"This Christmas, I decided to volunteer for the national charity for 
homelessness, Crisis. It was the most incredible experience.

On Christmas Eve I was allocated to work in a day centre set up in a 
secondary school in West London. In my team was one doctor, a 
pharmacist and, of course me, the nurse. We arrived with our medical 
kit and were given a spare room in which to set up a clinic. There was 
instantly a frantic panic amongst some of the 'guests' (the word used to describe the homeless) who were desperate to see a doctor or nurse.

A "Thank you" from Catherine Mary Collins

We were only there for 7 hours but in that time, as the doctor was so 
busy, I treated guests with broken collar bones, some with deformed bones that had been left untreated and many, many frost bitten toes as well as the usual coughs and  colds. Some had not seen a doctor since last year's Christmas at Crisis.

I met incredible characters who had been made homeless for one reason or 
another, including travellers, nurses, jugglers, solicitors and web designers.

I was lucky enough to get a free meal also and this gave me an opportunity to sit down with 
the guests. I met one man who had been sleeping rough for 2 years and I 
was shocked to find out he was a qualified nurse. He explained to me 
that at night it was too cold to sleep so he just walked around trying to keep warm to stay alive. His most precious possession was an umbrella he had found, but in fear of it being stolen, he had hidden it on the streets. He said that his worry was, that if it snowed again he might never be able to find it. Crisis had given him two new hats, one with ear flaps and he was so thrilled; this was a real chance to beat off at least some of the cold.

Other services the day centre offered included podiatry (the busiest  service!), dentistry, opticians, maths lessons, haircuts, manicures  and cinema rooms. Hairdressing seemed to have the most fun being able to  transform people back to their youth within a few minutes of setting two with scissors and comb. After a good shave and a haircut, some of the guests looked twenty years younger when they came out of there!

On Christmas Day, as part of  a larger team, I was despatched to an old warehouse in 
East London set up especially for the rough sleepers. Crisis provides 350 beds 
for people sleeping on the streets for the week over the Christmas period. All beds were full after just 12 hours.

As our minibus pulled up at the centre the guests surrounded us and cheered saying 
'God bless you for coming to help!'- it was very moving.

The day centre on Christmas Eve had been an experience, but the East End centre was more like a vast concentration camp. We set up our clinic and a long queue formed instantly. Some were so ill they had to be blue lighted to hospital immediately.

For the second part of my shift I was sent to the dependency centre 
for alcoholics and drug addicts. This was equally harrowing but of 
course much livelier! It was humbling that everyone we ministered to was so grateful.

Many volunteers I met had done Crisis at Christmas year after year. I 

now understand why  it is such a life changing experience, not just for the guests but also the helpers.
Thank  you all very, very much for your donations made to Crisis through my sponsorship  page; that cash really will change lives profoundly."


1 comment: