‘Someone else needs it more’: An evening with Leeds’ homeless

The little things can still make a difference

charity cold homeless leeds streets uni winter yorkshire

Like most of us, I regularly come across the homeless in Leeds.

I always want to help but am unsure of how to do so, and so I usually end up smiling apologetically and not doing anything at all.

However, Leeds With The Homeless provides an opportunity for clueless people like me to do something productive. The non-profit community arranges monthly meet-ups in the city centre, in which volunteers are encouraged to give meals, clothing, and a little bit of love to those who might need it.

How many can I fit in the oven at once?

On the day of the event at Mill Hill Unitarian Chapel, me and my housemates ventured to Morrison’s for supplies. We decided that everyone likes pizza, and so we bought ten.

Arriving at the chapel we were overwhelmed by the number of volunteers, and the overflowing tables of food made our pizza mountain appear pretty inferior.

One of the organisers of the event told us: “We set up this voluntary project three years ago, it’s blown up and it’s beautiful.”

Food for all tastes

To start off with, everyone was a little bit awkward.  It turns out that donating food and clothing is pretty easy, but finding the courage to start an actual conversation with another human being can be much harder. I turned to another first time volunteer, only to find out the non-reassuring news that he had brought pizza too.

Another event organiser said: “They just want to be appreciated as human beings – not many people talk to them.

“You might even get a few marriage proposals – that happens quite a lot here.”

With newfound hope that by the end of the night I could truthfully tell my mum that someone wanted to be my boyfriend, I approached a man, John*, sitting alone in one of the chapel seats. I asked him if he would like a sandwich, he declined but accepted a cup of tea, no sugar, saying “I don’t need anything, you could give them to someone who needs them more.”

I wondered since he didn’t need anything, what he would wish for if he had three wishes. “For my health,” he said, “and to have my mother back.”

“What about the third wish? Perhaps unlimited wishes?” – “No, you could give that to someone else too.”

Molly, the second person we spoke to, was a woman with her two-year-old granddaughter. The baby either cried or threw the food her grandmother had offered her onto the floor. The grandmother gave one of the volunteers a despairing and apologetic look, and the volunteer simply nodded and got her more options from the kitchen area. There wasn’t as many divisions as I had originally thought – everyone was just trying their best.

The busy church

Greg, a smiley man from London, was thankfully much better at making conversation with strangers than we were. After a lively debate about who the best guitarist in the world is – alive right now: Jonny Marr, to have ever lived: Jimmy Hendrix – he opened up about how he got to this point in his life.

He said: “I owed drug dealers money and I couldn’t pay them, I had to leave home.” Greg then told us that his health issues had prevented him finding work: “I’ve got stomach ulcers, ADHD, and I also have fits.”

Another man we met surprised us with his sense of humour. After looking through and trying on all the coats that were donated, he concluded that he couldn’t find any in his size. We offered to help him look through them again: “Don’t worry, they weren’t my style anyway,” he winked.

The last man we spoke to, Terry, did not exactly receive us with open arms. We offered him snacks, and asked if he felt like chatting with us. He accepted the food but told us that students like us are wasteful, we throw half eaten sandwiches on the floor, stump out cigarettes that we’ve only had two puffs on, and we aren’t grateful for anything that we have.  I was silent.

Another volunteer come real-life-angel jumped in and gently asked him what he would do differently if he were a student today. Terry explained to us that he had attended grammar school, had been accepted into university, but eventually he became dependent on alcohol, and had been ever since. He believed he could see us heading down a similar path.

After vowing to be less wasteful, and steering him toward less turbulent topics, like late ’80s TV comedies, he seemed to soften up a little. As the night went on, I grew to find his insults endearing, and told myself that him nicknaming me “Cally no-mates” was probably a sign of us bonding. The chapel was emptying out and I told him I had to leave: “Finally,” Terry said “I thought I’d never get rid of you.” “Love you too,” I yelled back.

Volunteers of all ages

Although homelessness is an ongoing problem that cannot be solved solely by attending these events, the little things can still make a difference.

If you’re interested in getting involved in Leeds With The Homeless, visit their Facebook page here.