Tag: Homeless

GIVING BACK TO BECOME #100STRONG

100strong Ho Ho Homeless

From the very start, here at Open Communications, we have always taken the opportunity to give something back. Not because we want to be seen to be ‘doing our bit’ necessarily but because we believe that it is important that when we can, we help out and have a positive impact on the local community and those less fortunate.

Christmas is always a great example of this and for the last three years we have donated to a very worthy cause Ho, Ho, Homeless, which provides festive packages including clothing, food, sanitary products and treats for rough sleepers throughout Yorkshire.

Taking a step back, the initiative was the brainchild of a friend and client, Geoff Shepherd, who had a chance encounter with a homeless person on a bridge in Leeds. Offering the chap some money, he was surprised to be handed the notes back. After some discussion, he insisted the money was taken and the rough sleeper produced a Christmas card as thanks.

Children should be seen and heard

That could, like many similar interactions that happen every day, have been the end of his encounter but Geoff’s young son asked why there was nothing more that could be done for people that have no home and no one to care about them.

A very interesting comment and a shining festive example of why we should listen to children and consider how their ideas can become a reality.

As a result of this, Geoff created Ho, Ho, Homeless and asked businesses to donate money, clothes, toiletries and any other items that would be of use to a rough sleeper during the winter months. Better still, he asked that treats also be considered, not just everyday items so that the recipient would also realise that they are not forgotten and that it is Christmas, a time for special gestures.

100strong

Ongoing support

We have been privileged to offer body warmers and money over the years but as we embark on our third-year things have changed slightly. This year the campaign message was #100Strong. The idea is simple; 100 businesses donate 100 pounds. This would generate £10,000 which would then support the homeless in Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield and York.

So, as well as contributing as an agency – I believe we were seventh – we also asked others within our network to do the same. Headed up this year by Bob Proctor, we received regular updates of the fantastic work that had been done and the products that helped individuals and service delivery partners throughout Yorkshire.

It is no simple task to engage with rough sleepers, nor to spend time purchasing items, engaging with retailers, packing bags and making the deliveries but the team did an amazing job and it just goes to show that we are ‘stronger together’.

Homelessness isn’t just about Christmas  

Now that we are in the new year, and looking back over the campaign, I can’t be the only person who is astonished by the number of visible rough sleepers in Leeds and let’s not forget, there are always those that we don’t see too! There must be something more we can do than refuse their requests for money?

It’s at times like this that I am most proud of Open Communications and all that we stand for. I know lots of businesses and agencies that are similar, so I would ask that rather than just donating at Christmas we all think about the many ways that we can show our support throughout the year.

For updates on the progress of the campaign please follow @MafiaYorkshire or search for the hashtag #100strong.

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AN EXPERIENCE I WILL NEVER FORGET

Kevin card front Kevin card

It was just like any other day, nothing untoward, an early start and I was on the train down to London for a meeting. There was nothing particularly unusual about it and as I sat looking at my laptop and wondering where to start with my to do list I decided that first and foremost I needed a coffee.

This is where my day turned from non-descript to a nightmare. I realised with absolute horror that I had left my wallet in my gym bag, which was on the passenger seat of my car… at the train station in Leeds!

Rather than scream and shout I thought about the situation and decided that actually it wasn’t such a big deal. I could do without a coffee and I had no real need to purchase anything else while I was in London so it would be fine.

This was my first major mistake.

I called my husband who said that he would arrange for me to pick up some money from a cash machine. All I had to do was find an RBS, Natwest or Tesco cashpoint.

Sorted. Or so I thought.

At this point a fellow passenger who had overheard my conversation handed me £5. I was really moved that she had gone to the trouble to hand me money, knowing that she would never get it back and also that I was a complete stranger. This small act restored my faith in humans and the kindness that they can show.

I explained to the lady that my husband had arranged for me to get access to some money and handed her the note back.

Second mistake.

Believing that there would be a cashpoint at Kings Cross I carried on regardless, laughing at my utter stupidity and promising that moving forward I would put some money in my bag so that I would never be in this position again.

On arriving into Kings Cross I went on a mission to find a cashpoint. There wasn’t a single branded cashpoint in or around the station. Panic started to set in. What was I going to do? I went across the road to a bank and asked the clerk where the nearest Natwest or RBS was.

His response was nothing short of baffling. Despite explaining that I had no money, he suggested I get a bus. I must have looked a little confused and reiterated that I had no money. He then said ‘Well use what god gave you. You’re a woman, just charm the driver’.

Needless to say, I walked out knowing that this was never going to happen not least because I have some self-respect.

So, angry and becoming increasingly nervous, I realised I needed the toilet. And that’s when it dawned on me. I couldn’t go anywhere – not even the station – without money. I didn’t have 40p and that meant I couldn’t access a toilet.

It was at this point I realised with absolute clarity that I had never really considered what having money, even small amounts, allows you to do. Without it you simply don’t have access to the very basic of facilities.

I then started to think about the homeless. I’ve been involved with charities that support rough sleepers in Leeds and have always considered myself to be relatively well informed but this experience left me shaken.

It took me more than an hour to find a Tesco and to access some cash but what about the homeless. They don’t have a husband to send them a code, which gives them access to money and therefore all of the things that we take for granted.

I often give money to rough sleepers but for the first time I realised that they need more than that. They need help and support. They need to break a cycle and they need to be acknowledged. I see the homeless but I’ve never really seen life through their eyes.

I will never forget the feeling that I got when I realised that because I didn’t have money, I didn’t really exist. People weren’t willing to help me and I didn’t have the necessary funds to help my situation.

This year, as a business, we will be showing our support for Ho, Ho, Homeless, a charity initiative which was started last year by a friend and client, Geoff Shepherd. The idea came to Geoff when he was Christmas shopping with his two young sons.

On walking past a homeless man on a bridge, Geoff’s son asked why the man was sitting there and why he was begging. He then asked if there was anything they could do to make his situation better. Geoff handed the man some money and in response he wrote a Christmas card and passed it to his son.

This simple gesture, and his son’s innocent but relevant questions, was enough for Geoff to realise that he did want to do more and so he called upon the business community to donate cash, clothes and gifts.

We provided 200 body warmers last year and will be doing something similar this year however the difference will be that I will appreciate just how difficult life is for those who don’t just find themselves stranded in London for a day but in a world of ignorance and isolation for the foreseeable future.

That day taught me two lessons. Not only did I learn to check that I have my wallet with me when travelling but also to appreciate just how fortunate I am. I will never take what I have for granted again.

A surprisingly ‘souper’ evening

My nerves were getting the better of me, what had I let myself in for this time? Why do I do it when I already have so much going on? Turning into Leeds, I could see the city before me, it looked peaceful and calm, if a little dark, but the lights were twinkling in the distance making it look pretty and inviting.

That’s the last thing I was expecting from the latest experience I’d signed up to – inviting was certainly not what was on the agenda this evening! You see, as many of you know, when I’m offered the chance to experience something new, I always think it’s important that you take it.

As an active member of the Yorkshire Mafia, I find that there are many opportunities to meet new people and to offer advice and support. In particular, you may have heard of something called Skill Will; it is the organisation which matches private and public sector businesses with third sector charities.

The concept behind Skill Will is simple; if you’re a painter and decorator then offer that skill to a charity, if you’re a lawyer however then it would be more worthwhile to provide legal services and advice to these companies, who are not often in the position to pay for them.

So, back to my story, I had been given the opportunity as a member of the Yorkshire Mafia to try out something new – but not all experiences can be categorised as positive and I was starting to fear the worst on my journey into Leeds City Centre. I had put my name down for a soup kitchen with Simon on the Streets, the charity that provides outreach services for the most vulnerable – and often homeless people – in West Yorkshire.

In all honesty I have been wanting to get involved in something similar for a while and tried at Christmas but learnt that you can’t just show up – you have to be a registered volunteer and you need to go through a process – so this was my chance to see what it was all about.

I scurried up the road, feeling a little anxious and if I’m honest unsafe. I don’t walk around Leeds a lot on my own at night and for some reason the thought of infiltrating a world I know very little about really unnerved me.

I met with Helen, General Manager for the charity and Jenny the Treasurer, along with another first time volunteer Sam. We met for a quick coffee in McDonalds for a catch up before getting out and into the thick of it.

I was aware that I had lots of questions; how do people end up on the streets, how are they meant to learn what’s right from wrong, why can’t society play a better role in helping them, surely there are resources available, where does the money come from, what can people do to help, why does this happen…

Once I’d got one or two things off my chest we were on our way and the butterflies returned. We had a better idea of what to expect and rather than handing out soup in doorways to people who barely graced you with a grunt, as I was expecting, we rounded the corner to a collective of around 20 people enjoying soup and a roll.

They were laughing, shouting, biking around and telling jokes. Some were singing and others just keeping themselves to themselves but what struck me was that in the crudest sense of the word this was a community. It may be a dysfunctional one but a community none-the-less.

Just like the regulars down our local pub, my Dad would say they were there to ‘tell some jokes and swap some lies’ and that was exactly what it looked like. It wasn’t scary at all. We stood a little away from the group and I have to admit to feeling a little ashamed. I was there to see what goes on, yet felt like I was ‘observing’ these people – as if that was my right, which of course it isn’t.

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I needn’t have worried, soon enough a young chap called Tommy* came over and introduced himself. He held out his hand and said I looked like a Russian doll – my coat is red and he mentioned his Mum had a figure that wore a similar outfit.

He then proceeded to make us laugh with his dry sense of humour for the proceeding 10 minutes with his anecdotes and warnings of ‘don’t step back – there’s something behind you and it’s not great. I’ve just moonwalked through it. Never one to miss an opportunity to perform!’.

He then explained, very matter-of-factly that he was going to be spending a couple of hours with a man he had recently met who was sleeping on the streets at the other side of Leeds; ‘he doesn’t know anyone you see’, he explained, ‘he doesn’t have a blanket, so I’m going to help him get one’.

I believe that Tommy is an exception to the rule when you’re trying to engage with people who have such complex needs. The basic principle is that it’s every man for himself but I was taken by this young man and his eagerness to engage and to help someone else.

Then came Stuart*. Well, what a character! He approached a little cautiously at first and then held his hand out and said ‘hello, miss’. He continued to call me ‘miss’ despite knowing my name, it was a very gentlemanly gesture. At one point he seemed to go off into his own world and relive some tragedy, which made him cry, before coming back to the conversation and telling me that I should listen to Led Zeppelin.

Looking around the group of people I didn’t feel nervous or scared, I just felt compassion and a very deep sympathy – but not the sadness I expected. I didn’t want to cry, I just wanted to let them know that for that brief moment, I think I understood. Many of these people have little choice but to end up in the situations they do – it’s no surprise when you listen to their stories but then again, the same can be said for anyone.

I wouldn’t wish this situation on my worst enemy – to end up reliant on drugs or drink to get you through the day and help you to forget about the awful things you have experienced, before tucking yourself up on the cold steps of a shop doorway at the end of a long day in preparation for another night on the streets.

What I was so thankful for was the wonderful work that the team at Simon on the Streets deliver. It was about more than soup and a bun, it was about companionship and the closest thing to friendship these people may ever experience. Most importantly it was about listening. As simple as that. Listening without judgement.

Like many others I go through my day worrying about many things that in the grand scheme are trivial by comparison to the worries that these people have.

When I fall asleep tonight, tucked up in my warm bed, cup of tea in hand and hot water bottle by my side I will think about Tommy and Stuart and hope that they are ok, because thanks to them, I had a great night out and an experience that I will pass on to others in the hope that we can all do more to support the people in the system who for one reason or another just don’t fit.

Good night all.

*The names of those I met have been changed in order to protect their identity.