Manchester has 5564 people living homeless on the streets. The same streets that have department stores like Debenhams making 95.2 million pounds in profit annually. The UK, one of the richest countries on the planet, should not have a homeless issue this large whilst 3.6 million households in the UK hold a wealth of over 1 million pounds.

I always feel guilt and sadness anytime I walk past a homeless person that’s been neglected by the government because I don’t have the power to help them. After feeling upset for a couple of minutes I’ll carry on going about my day. But those short moments of feeling helpless became a part of my daily routine until I was introduced to a more productive and effective way to direct my anger towards the issue.

I’ve never considered volunteering before, purely because of my lack of awareness around it and the preconception that only middle aged people do it. A post was shared on the Fallowfield student page encouraging young people to help out with various charities in the city so I signed up to volunteer for a couple of hours every Wednesday.

I felt quite a few emotions before going to volunteer for my first night. I was getting waves of anxiety kicking in and was overthinking how I was supposed to act and whether I would be stupid enough to say something insensitive.

I even started doubting whether a seemingly caring and genuine question such as “how are you?” was appropriate to ask someone who was sleeping rough on the streets. In hindsight, my thought process behind that wasn’t the most logical but that was a genuine concern, which as you can guess didn’t need to be.

As soon as I arrived at Barnabus I quickly realised that I had nothing to worry about. The other volunteers were very helpful and gave a brief before letting the people in, assuring us that we were fully supported, and if we had any issues then we should feel comfortable to raise them. My personal, petty worries over how I was going to be perceived by the people who we were there to help quickly became non existent.

Barnabus are a Christian charity that operate in the city centre. They run a daily drop-in centre, evening street outreach, one-to-one support and even work to engage and even run workshops that upskill people in certain trades like carpentry. Barnabus and other charities in the Manchester Homeless Partnership work with the council to provide essential support for those who need it most.

My role on the first night consisted of me serving food to everyone who queued up, which meant I got to have a brief chat with everyone that came in. Before this, my ignorance led me to believe that I would be speaking to depressed and miserable people. This stereotype that I held towards homeless people proved to be wrong.

It was refreshing to see that they all had something about them, whether it was a sarcastic comment or a bit of an innocent flirt, they were still very human and hadn’t allowed their unique personalities to be stripped away from them.

One of the roles I was given in the following weeks of volunteering was signing people in as they came back for a meal, warmth or just proper human interaction. I was shocked to see how many people were from places other than Manchester, such as Romania, Poland and Spain.

There was so much diversity and a variety of different lives and cultures within the room, and yet every single one of them has been affected by the cruel austerity that has been present in this country for the past 9 years.

Engaging in conversations with a few of them allowed me to gain a more open minded perspective towards homelessness. These people have the same emotional needs as you and me, and giving up a few hours a week to sit and listen to what they have to say can really help them feel important and valued.

I spent almost an hour chatting to a man named Colin about rap music and art and genuinely felt like I was chatting to a friend I’d known for years. A level of trust was quickly built and he became comfortable to openly discuss his thoughts with me.

He told me that I’d “helped him release a lot of stress” after I’d picked at his brain for a bit and listened to him talk about his childhood and political opinions. His reaction to me willingly talking to him was enough of a reason for me to keep volunteering and bringing as much awareness to helping the homeless as I can.

These people don’t just lack materialistic items but also an emotional support system. Whether you’re rich, poor or in the middle, I’m sure we all know how much of a positive difference it can make to our lives when we’re able to vent and share our feelings.

I never properly acknowledged how privileged I am to have a roof over my head and food in my fridge and I don’t think a lot of people realise this either. I’m not insinuating that we should feel guilty about this, as where we are financially in life is partly down to pure luck, however volunteering allows us to give back to people who need our help the most.

Within the short space of a month I’ve definitely become more socially aware and have noticed myself being more empathetic to situations due to being exposed to the harsh reality of austerity.

If we look at this selfishly, volunteering benefits you as well and releases a bit of that dopamine we all crave. Wednesday’s are pretty mundane for me at uni and can leave me feeling quite drained. However every time I get home after a night at Barnabus I genuinely feel my mood lifted.

It’s a bit of a two way thing where it provides a massive help for the people who need it and as cliche as this sounds will help you gain a sense of purpose in a very capitalist orientated life.

Barnabus is an amazing charity that depends on people like you and me to support the work they do. Homelessness doesn’t discriminate, and can affect anyone, so the country should really have more resources to help it’s victims.

Unfortunately, help is extremely limited so we have to rely on non profit organisations like ‘Love for the streets’ to bring awareness to societal issues. If you’re interested in making a difference and stepping outside of your comfort zone, please get in touch and do more for the people in need than our own government has.

https://www.loveforthestreets.com/contact-us

Originally published at http://alexmcrmedia.wordpress.com on January 7, 2020.

Journalist studying at Manchester Metropolitan University. Arts, culture and current affairs.