It’s only the second Thursday of the New Year and it seems everyone has forgotten about Christmas already. The weather is getting colder and we have had the shortest day. The bulbs are rapidly growing in the garden, so the first glimpse of Spring is here. We are looking forward to this year and what it will bring for us here at the Soup Kitchen.
We looked around the room this evening and wondered about what it was like to be in a situation with little to look forward to? We all go home to our family, warm bed, kids, their homework, work, bosses but we have a life to embrace and get up for each day. What do many of the people we see each week have?
They have us. Watching the laughter, banter, jokes, good food, compassion, support and warmth. In total 40 people came through the door to a wonderful three-course meal. Curried Parsnip Soup (Jan and Meryl both made soup from the huge amount of parsnips donated last week), Cumberland Pie with sprouts and bacon and for dessert, bread and butter pudding from Pantone donated by volunteer Scott and his wife. There were many comments about the quality of the food. The Soup went in 12 minutes. Meryl’s parsnip Soup will also be used on Saturday at the Wharf for the Saturday Soup Session for the rough sleepers at 4.00pm.
We were very busy tonight. One client took up most of Mai-Britt’s time. He arrived drunk and disoriented. He had been seen sitting by the Clock Tower with a bottle at lunchtime and had been seen asleep in town later on. He was agitated and rambling and ranting this evening. We have only seen him do this once before to this extent. He was very reactionary so we had to be very careful how we spoke to him.
Due to our ongoing concerns of his medical conditions, Emma and Mai-Britt decided it was appropriate to call an ambulance. We were worried that the paramedics would just triage him, but Emma talked to the paramedics at length. She explained his situation, past and present medical issues and thankfully that did take him to hospital. Meryl did ask the crew to reiterate to the hospital not to let him out if possible until daylight hours and preferably keep him in. This person was apparently concerned about how he was going to get back to Newbury. This is a constant concern for us. The hospitals often let rough sleepers out late at night with no means to get back to Newbury. They often discharge themselves too. When it is so cold and they are already unwell enough to be sent to the hospital in the first place, it worries us dreadfully. Healthwatch has a meeting this month to discuss this constantly repeated issue. Hopefully, things will improve.
So we have had to call an ambulance two weeks running. We see more and more the drain on resources by the so-called Blue Light and MEAM clients, long term non-engagement drinkers. Residential care and “Wet Houses” are few and far between. Sadly the resources for a facility like this nationally are limited. Local Authorities tend to deal with people of local connection also. Sadly in West Berkshire, there is no such facility.
Many of our clients have been diagnosed with Hepatitis C. This is a virus that infects the liver. If it is left undiagnosed and untreated it has the potential to cause life-threatening damage over many years. However, with modern treatments, it is possible to cure the infection and most people with treatment can expect a normal life expectancy. It’s estimated approximately 220,000 people in the UK have hepatitis C.
People become infected by coming in contact with the blood of an infected person, sharing needles is a common way to do this. Hepatitis C often doesn’t have any noticeable symptoms until the liver has been significantly damaged. Therefore people can go a long time without knowing they have the infection. When symptoms start to occur, they can be mistaken for another condition. Muscle aches and a high temperature (fever), lethargy, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and nausea or vomiting. The only way someone will know for sure they have the disease is to get tested.
Swanswell arranges this locally and works with the clients to get the treatment they need. Getting people to engage to get the treatment is the difficulty. As volunteers, we often have to deal with clients and the physical symptoms of long term drinking. We often have to deal with bodily fluids so we have to follow strict procedures to protect ourselves from infection.
Hostel Rent Arrears
Some of our clients are rough sleeping because they have lost their place at the hostel for non-payment of rent. Two Saints have the policy to evict rather than allow someone to rack up a huge debt that they will never be able to pay. Then at least the person has a fighting chance to pay off the arrears. Two Saints expect 25% paid before someone is considered back. We talked to one of our regular clients this evening. He said he could never afford his arrears that so that why he has not paid it. We explained he could do a bit at a time. This would show good will and engagement which always goes down well. In no time that 25% would be paid off. We did also discuss that’s less alcohol money which is always a good thing. We had a good chat actually, he was on good form this evening and sober. He’s going to think about it. Often being able to sit down with someone who trusts you and you have built a relationship with goes a long way. Hopefully, with continued support, this person will start chipping away at the small 25% of his debt. He will have to use the night shelter otherwise and after that still be rough sleeping so it is a better option for him.
Healthwatch Homeless Card
One of our clients who is not rough sleeping, but lives in a precarious situation, has sadly been very ill this Christmas. He has had a rotten experience trying to get to see a doctor and unprofessional attitude from staff. It is common it seems for rough sleepers or vulnerable people to get substandard treatment from some surgeries and society generally. We get reports of this all the time. Healthwatch has brought out a new homeless card. Essentially they are for homeless and rough sleepers to take to a doctor if they do not have an address or ID and need treatment. Hopefully, this will help build relationships further between the vulnerable in our society and people behind a desk.
Next week Alice from Healthwatch will be coming in and giving some out and we will laminate them whilst the client is in the Soup kitchen Meryl will bring in her laminating machine.
A young lady came in to see us this week who we have been helping on and off for nearly two years. She is a different person from the angry aggressive girl who used to come every week when we first opened the Soup Kitchen. She showed us pictures of her flat. It is the first “home” she has ever had. She has been in care, prison, sofa surfing, a Two Saints resident and yo-yoed often. She said she couldn’t believe the horrible person she used to be. She has turned her life around and is so happy, she is at college and looking forward to her future. It is good to see her come in now happy and wanting to talk and engage rather than be very argumentative and reactionary. Having a place she can call home where she can shut the door and feel safe, for her is everything she has ever wanted.
Have you have met the twin sisters? Sue Our wonderful volunteer who is also a dedicated Community Police Officer and Meryl founder and Lead volunteer. It made us laugh and funny how none of the clients really noticed. Maybe it should be the new uniform!
Not Just Christmas
Christmas is gone, the Season of goodwill depleted. The homeless are still on the street, still cold, still lonely. Just because Christmas is over goodwill and support should not stop. Please remember the vulnerable throughout the whole year, not just the festive season. Christmas spirit can and should last all year.