You never forget the first time someone tells you they slept in the park last night. Or on the steps of a police station, in a phone box or on someone’s doorstep. Especially when there was frost on the ground. Is this really the Sheffield I live in?
Unfortunately it is. And ASSIST’s shelter for asylum seekers is always in use because there are still many people who have nowhere else to go.
I am one of the volunteers that sleeps in the shelter for a night or two a month. It is one way I can volunteer despite working 9-5 and I still have direct contact with clients. Because I don’t have to commit to more slots than I can manage on the rota I can fit my duties around other commitments.
The nightshelter is not the Ritz. It’s simply a place that is dry and safe, a hall that ASSIST uses thanks to the generosity of a local church. The shelter is there for clients that ASSIST cannot yet give a place in accommodation with volunteer hosts or the houses that we run. It is open Monday to Friday, 10 pm to 8 am. Every night there is one volunteer who welcomes the clients and two volunteers who sleep over throughout the night, just in case a client has a problem and to support each other. We have a separate room for female clients and try to always have a female volunteer on duty. There are toilet facilities and bedding donated by the public that is cleaned by one of our volunteers each week. We buy simple food for people to snack on when they come in at night, or for tea and toast in the morning.
My main role in 2013 is sharing coordination of the Events, Fundraising and Awareness team. But volunteering for the nightshelter is definitely the role I feel is most worthwhile, and it helps me explain to members of the public why ASSIST is still needed. Every time I am there I remember why I wanted to volunteer in the first place – because no one should ever have to sleep on the streets, feel abandoned or go hungry. It is here that I have seen so many small acts of kindness that sum up what I Iove about ASSIST and Sheffield. Our volunteers and clients are from all backgrounds and beliefs and everyone can stand around talking over a cup of tea before heading off to sleep. Often volunteers bring along fruit or homemade soup or cake to share. More than once I have woken up to find extra blankets laid over me during the night because another volunteer or client didn’t want me to get cold. I feel lucky and humbled to have met people like this, and to see how small actions done together really can change things for the better.
I couldn’t recommend volunteering for the nightshelter enough – all it takes is one night a month, whenever you can spare. Please get in touch if you can help: assistemergencynightshelter [at] gmail.com