I’ve been volunteering for NSNO since July of last year, and I do one four hour shift in the North Hub every fortnight. I started volunteering because when you live in London, homelessness is such an obvious, visible problem. I see a handful of homeless people just walking from home to the tube in the morning. In this city, it’s an issue that’s impossible to ignore. This made me want to try do my little bit to try and fix the problem.
On an average shift, I do lots of different jobs. It varies pretty widely, and you never quite know what’s going to happen. Sometimes it’s quite normal, mundane stuff, like bits of admin in the office, or unpacking food deliveries (I see A LOT of Prêt sandwiches!) However, other times I do more off the wall, unusual things like accompanying clients to new accommodation; or using Language Line to translate for clients who don’t speak English; or the night I made a mad rush around North London trying to track down an open pharmacy that stocked a client’s medication. (It was all very like an episode of The Apprentice – I was running down the streets in a shift dress and heels whilst talking incessantly on the phone to the Hub trying to get the next pharmacy’s address).
Doing a four hour shift after a full day at work does make for a long working day – but it doesn’t feel like it. The Hub’s relaxed so you’re not under any pressure or anything, but at the same time there’s always something going on – so I find I’m buzzing by the end of the evening. It’s a cliché, but there’s really not a dull moment.
But the really good thing about volunteering at NSNO is that even the ‘mundane’ things are still quite interesting! Our clients and their circumstances are so unique, that ‘admin’ isn’t just filing! In the last few weeks for example, ‘admin’ has involved ordering birth certificates, tracking down a twenty year old Army number from the Ministry of Defence, and learning the finer points of housing benefit legislation to help a client. It’s a bit of a cliché, but the four hour shift does just fly by – and it’s nice to be on your feet and doing stuff after being sat at a computer screen all day!
One aspect of volunteering that I enjoy the most is one of the most basic – just chatting to clients. Our clients are a really varied group of people – and talking to them gives you a whole new perspective on homelessness. Hearing some of their stories has made me realise that there are so many reasons people could become homeless – it’s a little frightening really – all you need sometimes is a bad run of luck and quite a lot of us could end up on the streets. That realisation has definitely made me more committed to volunteering.