Belfast Telegraph

We all have a chance to help the homeless

By Frances Burscough

I began 2014 by telling you about my New Year’s resolutions, of which there were many, ranging from the mundane to the extravagant and from the sublime to the ridiculous. Now I knew only too well from past experience that most/all of these wouldn’t even get off the ground, let alone make it past January.

And, so, it was no surprise that I went on to fail quite dismally. No, I didn’t write a bestselling novel; no, I didn’t travel to the Arctic Circle and see the Aurora Borealis from a husky sled; and, no, I neither met nor bore an out-of-wedlock love-child with Brad Pitt.

So, unless I really get lucky and have a truly amazing and eventful eight weeks, these will all have to be carried forward to 2015.

However, I am very glad to say that one resolution — probably the most valid and valuable of them all — has been a success and, months later, is still going strong. Namely, that I wanted to become a volunteer dedicated to working with the homeless.

You may recall that I first wrote about this in the spring. Having spent a few weeks getting to know the ropes at The Welcome Organisation in Belfast, I described a typical day working in the kitchen at the Townsend Street daily drop-in centre.

As a result, I was delighted to get a huge and very positive response from readers, many of whom were keen to find out how they, too, could become involved with such a worthy and worthwhile cause.

So here’s an update, timed to coincide with the onset of wintry weather, when the homeless are at their most vulnerable and when volunteers and donations are most needed and welcome.

Three very positive things have happened this month as far as the charity is concerned. For a start, it has a brand spanking new website at homelessbelfast.org which is not just bright, cheerful and easy to navigate, but it spells out in clear detail exactly how you can get involved, from volunteering, or donating, to exactly what to do if you see a homeless person sleeping rough.

Launched this week, it covers every aspect of the organisation from all the different in-house and outreach services it provides, to exactly how donations and funding are spent on a daily basis.

There are even some personal stories written by homeless people detailing how their lives were turned around from sleeping on the street to back on their feet with a roof over their head and a future to look forward to.

Reading these confirmed to me what I always believed to be the truth. The very same thing could have happened — or could still happen — to any one of us, had our lives taken another path, or our circumstances been slightly different.

Another positive development is that the Welcome Organisation was featured in a really fascinating documentary on BBC Northern Ireland last Monday night. Entitled The Longest Night, it told the stories of seven different people working the night shift on the longest night of the year — December 21, 2013.

One of these was Alice, who runs the Welcome Organisation’s crisis accommodation shelter for vulnerable women. A really moving programme, which gives a true and clear insight into how it practically saves peoples lives and helps the helpless. If you missed it, then you can still catch it on BBC iPlayer.

Another very positive development is the announcement that the Belfast Giants ice hockey team are continuing their support for Belfast’s homeless which proved so popular last December.

In the run-up to Christmas they will be asking fans attending matches at the Odyssey Arena to bring along donations of warm clothing, blankets and sleeping bags, which will then be distributed by the Welcome Organisation to those in need.

Colin Shields, the Giants’ top-scoring number 19, is fronting the campaign and will be announcing more details at future fixtures later this month.

It’s really heartening to see all these positive developments taking place, because, let’s face it, homelessness is not a current cause celebre and probably never will be. There will always be people whose response to the homeless is simply “get a job” (if only it was that simple), but for those of you who genuinely think this is a really worthwhile cause, now you know where to go and what to do to become part of the solution.

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