A time to survive.

Jack grew up in care from eight years old. Jack was pretty much failed by his mother, then the system, then his mother again. Jack thinks it is him that, and I quote, “is a f*ck up”. We think Jack is one of the most genuine people we have met on our journey.

Jack survives. 

Jack went to Niche for his Christmas dinner and was kitted out with lots of clothes. Jack hid the clothes, as they all do, along with another man. Jack left the building 20 minutes after the other guy. The other guy walked at the other side of the street and hurried on by carrying a black bin liner. That black bin liner contained the things he had been given, plus Jack’s hidden belongings. 

The other guy survives. 

Woody never got any help for housing since the ‘arches evictions’. Since he was given ten minutes to move what he could and his world was thrown on the back of a council van, tip bound. Woody sleeps elsewhere now. Tonight Woody strutted across the street with the new clothes we gave him. Like Superman he reappeared from the phone box with fresh threads on. His spirits high once again, a far cry from the shadow of his former self we saw last week. No longer did he see no way out, but was once again hopeful and full of his contagious charisma. Woody does what he has to, to get by. And for that, although we don’t really want to know about it, we admire his determination. 

Woody survives. 

Tonight we thought we had found a body in a deep dark corner of the city. In a place tucked away, a place damp and cold, like something from a film. The kind of film that sees you hiding behind a cushion, or the kind where your hands, without knowing, crawl up to protect your eyes. Where curiosity pulls your fingers apart, and you don’t want to but you can’t help but look. Our hearts hit our throats with a clatter. We stood motionless for what felt like forever. That body turned out to be nothing but a folded duvet and a trick of the eye caused by the haunting light in the deep dark corner, hidden in our beautiful city. That was someone’s home for the night. 

Hopefully they survive. 

The man who showed us the ulcers on his leg. Struggling to pull his rain drenched jeans above the swelling on his ankle. Revealing skin so infected we stood in shock at how he genuinely was still walking around. We implored him to go to the hospital, to get any sort of help. With infection so bad the reality is that he could become really sick.

The man may not survive. 

Our pregnant couple were nowhere to be seen tonight. They didn’t come and find us, they weren’t hiding in any of the usual shadows. We can only hope one of the viewings they went to see this week turned out to be successful. We were somewhat sad we hadn’t seen them, worried of their fate. But hopeful that maybe, just maybe, they were sat in their new home preparing for the next chapter in their lives. 

Maybe they’ve survived. 

Maybe their unborn child will survive too. 

We realised tonight, it’s not actually homelessness that bothers people. As long as it’s out of sight. Because if you can’t see it, it isn’t real. Right? 

But what we know is that is doesn’t matter how tightly you close your eyes, or your mind, it takes nothing away. Homelessness is everywhere. Moving them on and pushing these people to the dark corners of the city where even shadows daren’t go only serves to ease the conscience of our local authorities in their plight to improve the image of our city. 

And so we will continue to go out every week to help our friends survive. For no other reason than to try to make a difference, no matter how small. We will continue to take food, hot drinks, clothes and hope. And we will shine lights on those deep dark corners of the city so the shadows dare to dance. And we will more than likely dance with them, probably hand in hand. Let’s not allow the people of the streets to be shadows anymore. Let’s tackle this head on. 

Let the shadows survive. After all, that’s what we all try and do. Survive. Don’t we?

Take a moment to think about it. What would you do to survive?

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A time to reflect. 

Tonight the words are stuck. They won’t flow, find any sense of rhythm, in fact they won’t make any sense at all.

We’d no sooner got out of the car tonight and Woody met with us. He was a completely different person to the vibrant, animated and festive man we had met last week. You could have mistaken him for a completely different person. He was down and feeling completely out. The wind well and truly knocked out of his sails. It was pretty much as we had expected. Woody hadn’t been housed, he’d not even been given shelter the very same evening that the council and police tore through his home and took it apart piece by piece. A man’s home is his castle. To us it was an archway, to Woody it had been his castle. But not anymore. He’d taken refuge in a tent that night, but that too had been ‘taken down’ by the authorities. And so it turned out that his castle had quite literally been ripped down twice that night. We gave him some replacement clothing, a coat and a sleeping bag. And of course food. As always he was humble and polite. I think we all walked away feeling a little broken hearted. Silence fell, but the silence was deafening. 

If the grinch was real, he’d undoubtably have a BMDC parking permit.  

But our evening continued. Meeting old faces, new faces, smiling faces, defeated faces. Tonight we met Darren and Tara. We’ve met Darren many times, tonight we were introduced to Tara. A couple united by the very streets we stood on, and in fact expecting a child together. They raised the mood somewhat with their festive cheer. Darren had written a wonderful piece around utilising empty buildings in the city. That will no doubt become a blog on its own.

It was a bitter sweet seeing Dean and Jodie, the young pregnant couple. They’d seen us and caught up with us to stock up on clothing and food. We were happy to see them, but sad they’d not secured a home yet. But with two house viewings tomorrow they were upbeat and we hoped for the right result for them. We stayed and talked for a while. Dean putting Jodie’s needs before everything else, as always. Selfless in his actions, completely and hopelessly in love. Their story never fails to make a huge impression on us. How a slip from scaffolding at work can change absolutely everything. It brings home just how fragile life is.

Maybe it was because Christmas was just around the corner that the air felt colder, felt sadder, if that’s possible. Tonight hope seemed far away, like it had upped and left, just checked out without any regard for the destruction it left in its path. 

I heard someone say, “Christmas is a time for people to be with people who they love”. It’s not always the case though is it? Sometimes the person you love is out of reach, out of sight. Sometimes life takes a turn and right there and then everything changes.

I think this year for us, Christmas will feel very different for each one of us. I think as we open our gifts, sit to the table with people we hold dearest, it will mean much more than it ever did before. 

Merry Christmas one and all. May your Christmas be wrapped in love. 

Once again, thank you all so much for your donations. If you would like to donate, please message us via our Facebook page, project winter coat or email us at projectwintercoat@outlook.com

I’m homeless, but I’m human.

Was I always going to be here? No I was not. I was going to be homeless at one time, a taxi driver, truck driver, or any kind of job that would get me a crust of bread. You never know what’s going to happen.

Morgan Freeman

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Rain had lashed down for most of the week, and as we rose on Sunday morning, for the first time we noticed the frost had kicked in and left a layer of sparkling ice in its wake.

As we met up, it was clear we knew how cold it was, another week, another layer of clothing on each of us. We sorted, tagged, and packed up. This week we decided to add to our bounty of chocolate bars with hot chocolate and chicken sandwiches.

We were busy from the off this time. We met with some regular faces, but lots of new ones too. And we thought this week might be a good time to share some stories, because everybody deserves a voice, right?

Grotto

As Christmas approaches, our city is decorated with lights, shouting of good will and peace to all men, shops adorn beautiful window displays and the market stalls fill the air with Christmas songs. But we saw the best Grotto of them all. One of the Forster Square arches clad with Santa signs, snowmen and tinsel. Why? Because the man (Woody) who slept their wanted to spread the festive joy. He just wanted to make people smile. Because he explained, “just because I am homeless, it doesn’t mean I’m not human”. That was one of the most humbling things we’d heard. Of course he is a person too, just like us and you. We loved it. We stayed a while and chatted, feeling festive and thankful that he had shared his Christmas spirit with us. We can’t wait to get back next week, he has big development plans for it!

We were giving out drinks when a chap approached us. He told us how he had donated to the cause, that it had struck a chord, now happily married with children, he had once been homeless. Sleeping in local woodland, doing all he could to keep warm and nourished. He spoke to the people we had met. Shared stories and gave advice. We all stood back and took it in. It was magical. One man who could give frank and honest advice, because he had been where they were. He did more that evening than we could ever do, no matter how many coats, drinks or sandwiches we gave out. He gave hope. He was homeless, but he’s human.

We spoke to an ex serviceman. He’d served three tours for queen and country yet found himself in a situation he didn’t feel strong enough to get out of. Finally he had taken the courage to ask the British Legion for help, something he had been too proud to do until now. But he had taken the step, for him a giant leap to change his situation. And as he waited on news of some housing, with grand plans to turn his life around, we hoped this would be the last time we saw him on the streets. He’s homeless, but he’s human.

We met a man, face to the ground, scanning the area for something to eat. A muslim man banished from his family for drinking. We spoke of the western culture, a generation where life is so different to the religion he had once loved, and lived by. “Does God not accept us for who we are?” he asked. How do you answer that? So now he wanders the streets, thinking of a family that couldn’t accept him, that wouldn’t accept him. He’s homeless, but he’s human.

And Thomas, how can we forget Thomas. Slightly jealous that Woody’s Grotto was apparently getting attention on social media he insisted on being in a photograph with us. He packed the sleeves of his coat with chocolate and sandwiches. Thomas has one of the best sense of humours ever, quick witted, dry, a typical British humour. His life is seemingly taking a positive turn with the help of a new key worker. He was hopeful and upbeat, and looking forward to whatever the future may bring. He’s homeless, but he’s human.

We met a couple last week. She was shy, reserved, maybe you could even say embarrassed at first. He adored her, anyone could see. His eyes lit up when we spoke about her. They told us their story. For the rest of the week it’s all we pretty much thought about, and talked about. This week we met up with them again. This week she was chatty, relaxed, at ease. Which was a good thing, because the last thing you want for a pregnant woman is to cause them stress.

It starts with that all important test. Weeks go on, excitement mounts. Picking out a cot, tiny scratch mitts and baby showers. The breath taking moment seeing the life you created on a screen, the heart warming feeling of that first flutter. Perfect right? 

So imagine being offered shelter over 120 miles away from the father of your child, your soul mate, your everything. And when you say no, no I need to feel the safe arms of my partner around me at night, he just wants to take the journey of the little life we have made alongside me, please don’t break up my family, you are declared voluntarily homeless. So you have nowhere to go. The communication between you and your family is so fractured you can’t seek refuge with them. There is nowhere to turn. Your refuge becomes the cold ground, a doorway, anywhere, everywhere under the stars. The arms of your soul mate aren’t unpacking the self assembly cot, or building the pram. Instead he has one arm around you, giving you his body heat, and one across your stomach, protecting that brand new life. And because you are voluntary homeless there isn’t actually any call for anybody to rehouse you. Because this is your choice right? You chose to fight to keep your family together. 

The moment the soon to be dad pulled out the neatly folded scan picture from his pocket and proudly shared his son or daughter with us is the moment your heart cracks, breaks, shatters. As he did, the pride beamed from him. Just like any expectant parent, full of love. 

He’s homeless, but he’s human.
She’s homeless, but she’s human.
They’re unborn child, homeless, but human.

If you would like to find out where you can drop donations, please message us via our Facebook page by searching, project winter coat or email us on projectwintercoat@outlook.com

#wrapyourselfinlove and gloves

  
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. Homelessness is everywhere, and it can happen at any time, for many reasons. A loss of job, a divorce, a broken childhood, a broken dream. The more we venture out, the more we see just how easy it can be. 

We meet the most wonderful people when we are out. Characters so full of life, full of gusto. You can’t help but wonder how some of them came to be in the circumstances they are. It makes it all too real that actually it could so easily be us, or you. One choice, one decision, one step in the wrong direction. It really is, quite simply, as easy as that.

The first time we went out, we found it difficult to get people’s attention. They thought there would be no way we would speak to them. The second time we found that word had got round a little, we exchanged pleasantries, they talked a little. This week we found that people were looking forward to seeing us, and were much more relaxed standing and talking to us, sharing stories, some heart breaking, some hopeful. Now they see us as people, just like them. Now they ask our names.

We don’t proclaim to be trying to end homelessness, not by any stretch. We just want to make things easier. We try to put ourselves in their shoes. It’s cold, and it’s windy, winter is grabbing hold with no sense of regard. There are floods in and around our beautiful county, but we can go home, batten down the hatches, protect ourselves and our loved ones to the best of our ability. Imagine being exposed to the ice on the ground, and the chill in the air. When you’re at home, trying to get warm; nice cup of tea and extra thick socks. They’re on the street trying to find a dry patch of ground, blowing into their hands, anything just to make it through another night. In its simplest terms, imagine actually not having a roof over your head. Imagine not having the basic things that we take for granted. And it’s because of this being at the forefront of our minds, that we choose to do this. 

Tonight, one of the guys we met asked us why we do what we are doing. The simple answer is, because we can.

With the twists and turns and turbulent times in our world, we now realise that one small act of kindness can mean so much. There doesn’t have to be a motive. It is possible that love can exist, and be passed on to others. 

Thank you so so much for all the time you’ve taken to sort your belongings and drop them off. Please keep the donations coming. Without you, this project is absolutely nothing. 

If you would like to find out where you can drop donations, please message us via our Facebook page by searching, project winter coat or email us on projectwintercoat@outlook.com

We end tonight with the words of our new pal Lightening, “Too-da-loo”.