St Albans Action for Homeless’ Soup Runs

A charity worker for St Albans Action for Homeless tells me all about his and the charity’s work
A homeless man on the street with two bags. Credit to Flickr

Homelessness is an issue in every single city in the UK, rising and falling every year. Luckily there are numerous charities that help homeless people in a variety of ways. St Albans Action for Homeless is a local charity that runs soup runs every Friday and Saturday. They also organise a clothes run every Wednesday, where they donate all types of products, such as shoes, coats and sanitary products.

Some councils however are more helpful in providing services to homeless people. Shaun Martin, Operational Manager for St Albans Action for Homeless said: “Recently since COVID it’s [the council has] been fairly effective because a lot of the guys have been put into emergency housing … we were worried for a while that after COVID completely clears off that they’re all just going to be terfed back out again and because we did see that a lot of the houses guys are being put in literally has nothing. No heating, nothing works. So it is difficult, but they’re trying to get people in at least into a building.”

The number of people volunteering for homeless charities has increased lately for numerous reasons, but largely due to COVID. Shaun said: “More people have a lot more time on their hands. Whereas before, pre pandemic we used to struggle a lot trying to get people to do the soup runs. Whereas now we have training events and we do get a lot of people signing up to do them.”

Furthermore, the number of people receiving food and clothes has increased since the pandemic because many people lost their jobs and became financially unstable. Shaun said: “We get people that are in support networks, such as Open Door, Martin House, Kent House, but we also get people that earn a low wage and can’t necessarily afford to be able to feed themselves every single day … We started just after COVID with 10 meals and now we’re doing 25 meals a night.”

Some charities and food banks suffered a lack of donations due to the high demand during the pandemic, but others were fortunate enough to have enough support. Donations are vital to charities that are non governmental and rely on help from their advocates. Shaun said: “We get really good donations from people giving cash when they see the soup runs to our Just Giving, and we get people that direct debit every month.” and “We have people that do fundraisers. For example, Keith on the market, he shaved his beard off and raised a fair bit of money.”

Volunteers each have a different reason as to why they work for a specific organisation. Some causes are deeply personal to the heart with someone being affected by an issue. Shaun has worked for the charity for about two and a half years now. Shaun said: “I became an operational manager to help manage the actual logistics of how the soup runs work. I chose to do it because I enjoy helping people and it’s something that I’m passionate about, making sure that more people give back to the community that they live in. I like inspiring other people as well so our volunteers seeing them progress and learn and like develop skills to support the guys.”

Issues with homelessness in St Albans are quite broad with the area not being limited to one space. This can also be seen in all major cities as homelessness knows no boundaries. Shaun said: “We get guys that stay in Woodlands, guys that just sleep in the doorways in the city centre. When I first started it was really bad and there were where the old Poundland was, there’s an alley up there and it used to be rammed full of homeless people. Whereas now it’s not because the council have really revamped and got a lot of people into housing.”

Charities massively help the local community, and perhaps the international community. They provide essential services that are perhaps overlooked by the local or national government. Shaun said: “I think it [the charity] helps a lot of the people because you know we if it didn’t we wouldn’t see people turn up to the soup run and we get regular people that rely on this service.”

Since St Albans Action for Homeless provides multiple services, there are some that are more frequented and helpful. Besides services, useful skills are also taught to both the homeless and the volunteers. Shaun said: “I think there’s an important aspect of socialising as well because a lot of the guys that are full homeless don’t often get that socialising … [and] not many people will acknowledge that you’re homeless” and “I think this is the most important thing because we build a close bond with the guys that turn up and then we build trust to be able to help them, build them up to get them into a stronger network and back on the ladder and essentially get them into housing in the future.”

The reasons for homelessness range from relationship breakdown to mental illness to addiction to financial problems. With the pandemic, financial instability undoubtedly became the biggest causation. Shaun said: “I worked in Bedford for a while in the Salvation Army and that was, there was a huge problem with the homeless there. I think that a lot of people migrate to the cities because they know there is a support network there. St Albans is an expensive place to live you know and I think that’s why we see a lot of increase in homelessness in the area as well because it costs a lot to live here.”

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