Mitzvah Day 2018: We take to streets to show how good volunteering makes you feel
- Credit: Archant
Mitzvah Day organisers are encouraging everyone to volunteer for a good cause on Sunday – so the Ham&High got into the spirit by helping out a group of heroes who give supplies and friendship to homeless people every week.
The JW3-based charity, which says it runs the UK’s biggest faith-based day of social action, is now in its 10th year.
Mitzvah Day takes its moniker from a Jewish commandment meaning “good deed”. The ideas is to encourage everyone to muck in and support a social project – like Help and Hope for the Homeless, which regularly visits homeless people in King’s Cross and Camden Town. So we joined in as they went around central London a week ago (Thu).
“We see about 30 people every single week,” said Lloyd Gilbert. “So I think we’ve helped about 1,000 people in the past two years and I think that’s a conservative figure. We’re down every week so we can see them and they know our faces – if I didn’t enjoy doing this every week I wouldn’t do it.
“The people we see are so friendly to us – it’s like talking to friends.”
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Shoshana Gilmore founded the group after encountering an ex-serviceman sleeping on a park bench and wanting to help him. Lloyd, her husband, was one of her first recruits.
During the Christmas charity drive, they say, many rough sleepers are given identical packages, often containing duplicates of things they already have, which is both inefficient and cumbersome for them to carry.
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“What’s really interesting is people on the streets give us things to give to people,” said Lloyd.
Shoshana spends hours each week filling suitcases with sleeping bags, clothes and boots. She also prepares a pull-along tray crammed with hot drinks, sandwiches, cakes and other treats. “It started off just bringing out few things,” she said, motioning to the suitcases.
“But now we can’t do it without all the gear because we know we’ll see a minimum of 15 people in a night. We know a lot of their names already – after two years you get to know them. There’s also people who disappear, and we worry about them.”
Will Salisbury, 21, has been homeless for six years and sleeps rough with eight or nine others under Westminster Bridge.
Will says he avoids hostels for safety reasons, and because of the sometimes unreasonable charges.
“As long as you’re out here, you’re exposed,” he said. “You end up relying on each other even though you don’t want to. It’s a community – it’s a society.
“Since I was 15, my main groups, although I’m not a drinker myself, are alcoholics. I’ve woken up to a few dead bodies. It’s never nice, but you know they are in a better place.”
Will, who has worked on and off, doesn’t always tell employers his housing situation.
“I’m very good at reading people,” he said. “If an employer has an open mind, I let them know.”
Asked what he thought of Shoshana and Lloyd, Will said: “The people that come our here are beautiful people.”
Adam Paul Conn, an ex-police officer turned medic, has recently started volunteering with the group. “I started last week,” he said, “and get a lot from this spiritually.”
He treated a man’s leg wound that had been bandaged without any dressings, causing the flesh underneath to fester. The man allowed us to photograph him as Adam worked. “He had wrapped the bandage himself,” said Adam, “but he didn’t have any non-adhesive to stop it sticking.
“He won’t go to hospital. But because I’ve changed the dressing, when I see him next week it should be healing.”
Volunteer, Cindi Van Graan, said: “One guy asks for non-flammable clothes because people flick cigarette butts at him, and there are some malicious people who stab others with infected needles.
“How can they fall asleep? They can’t switch off completely because people will steal their stuff.”
Paul, who didn’t give his last name, said he was recently a wealthy man but lost everything after a difficult divorce.
“I came back from Toulouse in the south of France last year,” he said. “The reason being I lost just over £400,000 trading. I’m a forex trader in crypto currency.
“The point is it’s real people on the streets.”
Lloyd and Shoshana are always looking for more donations, especially trainers and blankets, which “go like nobody’s business”. If you’d like to help, see facebook.com/hertsandlondonhomeless. Meanwhile, Mitzvah Day is on Sunday. Visit mitzvahday.org.uk