A wise man called John Lennon once said that “life is what happens whilst you’re busy making other plans”. It doesn’t matter that he was in The Beatles, anybody could have said it and it would not lose its sentiment.
In our youthful years, we spend a lot of time daydreaming about the future, what life will be like in 10 years, how many kids you’ll have, what catchment area you’ll aim for and where you’ll vacate. We all have two things in common, the first being that we all share these fantasies and the second being that life rarely ever pans out how we plan it. This brings us on quite nicely to the work of Whitechapel Centre, a initiative set up in 1975 to meet the needs of homeless people in Liverpool. Nobody ever chooses to be homeless, there is a journey behind the eventuality that we can’t comprehend, nor ever want to experience ourselves.
Whitechapel started life in a building called Whitechapel, just off Church Street in town, almost 40 years ago and was initially a day centre providing meals and washing facilities. Over a 100 people would grace their centre each day and they soon realised there was huge potential to do more. Since then they’ve developed a whole host of schemes that are designed to not just support homeless people, but to prevent people from falling into homelessness. They have a Hub Homeless Resolution service which enables them to achieve their ‘No Second Night Out’ standard across the city. Admittedly, there are a wide variety of reasons why anyone has to sleep rough but there is no need for anyone to sleep rough a second night. They take a much more holistic approach than first anticipated, they don’t want to set up a service that supports homelessness, they want to remove it completely from our community. To do this they work closely with housing agents, hostels and landlords as well as employing a big outreach team to actively seek out these people and get them off the floor and walking towards a better future.
We encounter homeless people every day, some of them become well known in local folklore for a certain idiosyncrasy that stands out. We throw our spare slummy into the battered guitar case when it feels like it has been a while since we last did it, we every now and then buy the Big Issue from the fella outside Marks ’n’Spencer’s- but do we do enough? We’d be lying if we said yes. Heading down to the Whitechapel Centre was quite a poignant few hours. It was admittedly more of an emotional roller coaster than we first imagined. We didn’t have a stereotype sketched in our head but it was quite shocking to see people there who were barely adults. We arrived just after one of their daily activity sessions that are there to build confidence, skills and capability. It is rare that you look into a room so full and it can feel so empty. Whitechapel work with some of the most vulnerable, isolated and lonely people in our community and offer much more than a shoulder to cry on.
This October 24th they’re hosting a sponsored sleep out night in the grounds of St. Nicks church to try raise money and awareness simultaneously. This is nothing like the conditions in which the people they work with sleep but will definitely give an insight into homelessness and the issues faced by people in Liverpool every day. The message behind the event is serious but the night itself will be extremely memorable and a reminder of the handwork Whitechapel have done for almost four decades. You can find more info here. The Whitechapel Centre is open 365 days a year and almost 2,500 people came to their door last year, with our help they can keep letting them people in. Here is their donation page, you can set up a monthly fee or choose to donate just a one off. Money that you might not even notice leaving your account can make a huge difference. Just £5, the price of a couple coffees a month, pays for a cooked breakfast for 10 rough sleepers.
Thank you Whitechapel for the last four decades and for helping people in our community that might have been forgotten if it weren’t for you. Homeless people aren’t aliens who landed here out of some ill fate, they used to be your neighbours, your friends and your family. We want to say here’s to another four decades but your presence is almost bittersweet in that although we admire you, ideally we’d live in a world where your services wouldn’t be needed. I’m sure you’d agree.
If you ever see someone sleeping rough, please call 0300 123 2041, it is a low cost number that could make a huge difference.