This week we said goodbye to Abi who has been volunteering with the Soup Kitchen since the beginning. She originally volunteered for one session before going into politics after university. However, she has changed her career path and is moving to London to work with vulnerable people as a housing officer. We wish her well in her future endeavours. The Soup Kitchen changes many people’s lives.
This week’s session was bedlam! More than fifty people through the door. We were absolutely exhausted by the end. There were so many very distressed soles. At one stage Emma said she had one man crying on one side of her and another chap having a panic attack on the other side.
The sessions are so intense now. Some people come in and ask for items such as tents, sleeping bags, clothing and utensils as soon as they get through the door. The first hour is full on, to say the least. Everyone is so hungry and often now, very drunk or under the influence of drugs. Once people have eaten it does calm down a bit. Meryl looked at the clock at 7.00pm and couldn’t believe the session had been open only one hour.
A regular client came in agitated and very drunk again. Many of Newbury’s rough sleepers are using drugs along with alcohol to help deal with the despair that they feel. We seem to get more people in each week who are heavily under the influence of something. Volunteers need to be able to cope with events that may occur with vulnerable or unpredictable people in a non-judgemental caring way.
We feel that sometimes the atmosphere is different in the Soup Kitchen and you almost have to have eyes in the back of your head to make sure everyone is happy and safe. The atmosphere could change at any moment. Our volunteers are so good at managing situations and personalities to keep the session calm and friendly. People come in and have a good time and a good meal. Often the clients apologise if they have had too much to drink as they know we have rules.
Slowly the campsite is changing. With support from MEAM and all the statuary organisations working with the Soup Kitchen and other charities, some people are being helped. Having said that we had four new rough sleepers in this week. The numbers of homeless people in West Berkshire is increasing weekly. Indeed, a person from Bracknell who came in this week who has worked in a Soup Kitchen, there stated they on average welcome only 15 people a session.
One of our street homeless men came in very distraught this week and very drunk. Emma sat with him outside for at least an hour before Meryl was able to speak to him. He has got himself involved in a situation in the camp. The camp dynamics are changing and more challenging characters are moving in. This person has felt very upset this week. In this situation, emotions run higher than usual and dealing with situations that arise are harder to cope with. He has been doing so well with his script and is working hard with Swanswell, however we worry that his state of mind will jeopardise all the hard work he has put in. He wants to improve his life and choices but he said he doesn’t want to go to Two Saints and there is no other option for him. He said he would rather be homeless than up at Two Saints. We often hear all the negative things about Two Saints but they do an incredible, difficult job with difficult challenging people and limited resources. Many people settle quite well up there and are able to piece their lives back together. With a lot of support and patience.
A young woman came in again. She is still having suicidal thoughts. We are pleased to see her again this week and for her to know she can come in to talk to someone. She has promised that she will come in next week. One of our volunteers is a clinical psychologist so we have a volunteer with specific experience for her to talk to. She has no family or friends. The Soup Kitchen is a place that someone can come in and talk to a friendly non-judgemental person.
Do not judge the person in front of you
One of our regular clients came in on really good form this week. She is often so sad and desperate. Engaging with Swanswell again and hopefully booked in to be back on her script in a couple of weeks if she sticks to the agreed plan. She is drinking less. We were generally talking about Denmark with one of our volunteers. She then talked about her knowledge of the islands around Denmark. She has been on a tall ships race around the islands when she was younger. We often judge a person by their drug use and forget to look deeper at the person sitting in front of us. People are judged by their drug use and not by the person they actually are. We all need to look deeper! Do not judge the person in front of you.
We are looking for a table magician to volunteer their time on December 20th for the Soup Kitchen Christmas party. We have plenty of volunteers for the event itself but would be really pleased to hear from someone who can help us.
This session was additionally difficult as a few volunteers had to cancel last minute. Sometimes it happens. It is life, but occasionally we get a session when a few people do it. This is why we have so many people on the rota each week. Now the sessions are becoming a little tenser, we need some more experienced volunteers to deal with difficult characters as they come in and as situations arise. Thankfully they didn’t. When you have fifty people all with different issues in a small room it can be worrying for us. We do not turn anyone away as long as they are respectful and follow our basic rules. We have bendy walls, but come the winter months we are not sure how much more our walls will bend! The Soup Kitchen is very popular. We do our best to support the people that come in each week. It is a happy place that volunteers feel safe to be and service users want to come. That’s all that matters.