The Impact of Volunteering on the Volunteer
The following article was written by one of our regular volunteers for Homeless Sunday, October 2019
My decision to volunteer for Opendoors came from an unusual ‘place’ compared to most people. I have been living in Devizes since 2008, through Scouting I was aware of the Sleep Out but didn’t really give it much thought. Compared to walking down the South Bank in the early 80’s and seeing beggars in London and Paris, homelessness was barely visible here.
My involvement was triggered by my experience of helping a close family member with mental illness deal with benefit reassessments. This made me realise how precarious people’s situations can become through no fault of their own and encouraged me to start volunteering a few years ago. I was right, a lot of people who come to Opendoors have been mentally scarred by unhappy childhoods, adult relationship breakups or ptsd after serving in the armed forces. Addiction to drugs or alcohol may occur, but the root cause of the addiction is the need to numb the feelings and find solace.
To paraphrase Jesus, ‘the homeless will always be with us’ because there will always be some people who are so damaged that they shun society. I do feel strongly however that the situation has been pointlessly exacerbated in the UK through the unwillingness of successive governments to build social housing and encourage low cost housing for fear, I think, of reducing house prices, thus antagonising voters and the ‘preserve the countryside in aspic’ lobby which I think is far too strong in England.
It is also crazy to think that a homeless person should tackle their addictions before being considered fit to be on a housing list, where is the incentive to stay ‘clean’ or sober when you are chilled to the bone?
I enjoy attending Opendoors meal sessions because of the company, the people I chat with are intelligent and interesting and can certainly take a joke! I do the cooking about once a month which is a challenge considering that I usually cater for 5, not 25! We have a freezer in the parish rooms which is often full with food donated by supermarkets so we have the challenge of meal planning with what is available on the day; which goes some small way in also tackling the issue of food waste. It is frightening to think that we hear of mothers going without food because of benefit sanctions and UC delays, let alone the homeless, when supermarkets have so much food left over…
The other important aspect of Opendoors is our support in helping people do the kind of life admin skills most of us take for granted such as registering at a surgery or getting a bank account, as well as being supported to get on the homelessness register and bidding on the Homes4Wiltshire website. There is scope for a great deal more voluntary support at Opendoors, given the limited public funds available to pay council outreach workers. It is very rewarding and if anyone enjoys research and advice type roles we would like to hear from you!
Volunteering at Opendoors does make you realise what a blessing it is to have a roof over your head, the thing that gets to me most is thinking ‘I can go home now, cook, feed the cat, talk to my family, read or sit in the garden, what are they going to do with the rest of their day or night?