Adam Bird

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Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Outreach with Caring Hands

Caring Hands

I have known for some time that the people of Caring Hands in the Community provide a wonderful service for homeless people in Medway. I’m also aware that whilst their hard work hasn’t gone unrecognised, there has been a lack of information available online about the work that they do. This reason, out of many is why I asked my Uncle Matthew if I could be involved in re-purposing their web offering. On Monday evening, I witnessed for myself a small element of their work which reinforced my opinion and desire to succeed in the project we are working on.

Caring Hands was initially started by my Uncle Matthew over ten years ago after a conversation he had with a man outside King’s Church where he worked whilst sweeping the drive. The man was homeless, and without wanting to go into specifics (see the website when it launches!) Matthew felt compelled to do something and shortly afterwards Caring Hands in the Community was born.

In conversations over the years Matthew has always been keen to share with me and the family the things that are going on and things that have happened. On numerous occasions I’ve visited the building, but always out of hours and have seen an empty building that of a night echoes with the ghosts of human despair. I had my first proper visit two weeks ago, briefly, and during the day whilst everything was in full flow. The first thing I noticed was the change in atmosphere, gone was the darkness and replaced instead by hope, by gratitude and a warmth that was comforting despite my own apprehension.

Which for me is where the problem lies. I always feel uncomfortable around homeless people, whenever I see someone asleep on the street when I walk to the office, or sitting on the pavement asking for money I’m unable to look them in the eye knowing that I’ll never truly be able to understand what it is that they are going through or relate to the issues that led them there in the first place.

Homeless people aren’t homeless for any specific reason, each person is different and has a different set of circumstances behind them, each has a story to tell and each one is as heartbreaking as the other. Homelessness is also not a modern day affliction, people have been without food, without shelter from day one and sadly it will never ever go away.

On Monday evenings, on top of the Monday to Friday daytime operations a team from Caring Hands go on “outreach”, where they go on the road and supply food, drink and warmth to those who need it. I was invited to attend, along with a chap named Joel Buckland who is in town for the week producing a video piece for the new website. Attired in a high-vis jacket with glow strips I felt rather apprehensive making my way along New Road whilst having bushes pointed out to me as to where people were known to live. This became all the more staggering when I realised that the road I was walking along is the old London to Dover route and still today, the main route through the Medway towns. How many people pass by on a daily basis oblivious to what is happening only a few feet away?

We reached our desired spot on the main road, a layby of sorts when the Caring Hands van turned up and people started arranging an assortment of tables laden with teas, coffees, soups and sandwiches. Shortly afterwards a small group of men arrived who’d obviously made this event the main part of their Monday evening. The group of men were apparently from Poland, they’d been made homeless in their motherland and come to the UK, not in search of a better life, but survival. The cruel winters in Poland would have killed them and they are, apparently, legally allowed to come here and be homeless, but not allowed to work or seek benefits of any kind.

Whether or not I agree with the legal ramifications or the politics that saw these men arrive on our shores is neither here nor there. What I do admire though is the kindness and compassion of the people involved who look through and above the legalities and politics and provide these men with some form of survival. The Polish men too were terribly appreciative, offering broken words of gratitude and thanks and offered handshakes to those who had fed them.

The night was not as busy as normal, a noticeable Police presence in the area had made the normal clientele apprehensive. Afterall, being homeless means people will do anything to survive; petty crime, prostitution and paths into alcoholism and drug addiction become viable alternatives to dull the steady pain of their reality. So although I didn’t see the full state of affairs, I did see enough. I saw a group of people looking out for, helping and providing for the people society have forgotten or chosen to ignore.

All of the people I watched on Monday evening, working on behalf of Caring Hands in the Community are Christians and are performing God’s work on behalf of Him. Even though I have no real religious ideals personally, I have a huge sense of admiration and respect for those that do. At the same time, it should also be recognised that there are many, many people who also do great and wonderful things for society without religious motivations.

Which is why all of us, whatever our religious backgrounds must do more. I have no idea what the more is, but people like those at Caring Hands in the Community certainly do. Take me for example, can I overcome my own prejudices and misconceptions, make a start by offering a friendly word and a listening ear to a stranger on the streets? It may not be much, but what is it that they say? Every little helps.

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