Ashley's experience of volunteering at YRP

Ashley's experience of volunteering at YRP

Posted on: 5 April 2017 in

Ashley Ferris chose to spend an evening volunteering at the night shelter as part of her quest to complete 52 experiences in 52 weeks.

This is her blog about YRP:

York Road Project provides emergency and longer term accommodation for those experiencing homelessness. They have one emergency accommodation property (which is where I was) and four ‘move on’ properties, for up to 29 people. The building that I was in was essentially the night shelter. Amanda, who manages the project, called the people who stay there ‘clients’ so I will use this in this blog. They can come to this shelter for 21 nights. They get access to The Prop day shelter as well (which people who aren’t staying can also use), and it’s hoped that whilst they’re there they’ll sort some longer term accommodation.

When I arrived there was a chap who was just leaving, who Amanda said was one of their biggest success stories. He had been at York Road, and done a few cycles of 21 days – before landing some slightly more permanent accommodation for a few months. There are different levels of accommodation and support, where people know they can stay for 6 months up to 2 years. This guy had been all the way through the move-on process, to low support accommodation for 2 years, and then had gone into a flat the week before which is rented to him by the project. He’d come in that day to give back the keys, as he had a good job now and was moving in with family as he was saving to buy a property!

After he left Amanda showed me around. There’s a dining room, which is also where the clients can sit and play games or watch tv during the evening. There was a small kitchen as part of this with a hatch out to the dining room, which is where we prepared the pie and potatoes for dinner. Then there are eleven bedrooms and two shared bathrooms, plus somewhere for them to wash their clothes.

I was working that evening with Jason and Ben, a friend’s boyfriend, who works there one night a week and is how I found about the project. They work 5:30pm – 8:30am. They let the clients in from 6, and then dinner is served 7-8 on the dot. The clients can dip in and out throughout the evening, but they’re asked to be back by 10:30 or the door is locked. It seems a little harsh, but in fact it’s totally necessary – I guess they need a kind of structure in place or people will start to turn up later and later and everybody needs to go to bed. There are always two staff on as a minimum, and they can go to bed in a staff room upstairs at 11, after the clients have gone to bed. They’re then up to get everyone up and out. The shelter shuts at 8:30am and there’s no flexibility on this as the building closes, apart from on Sundays, when the clients get a lie in, the shelter is open all day and they do a roast dinner!

We opened the doors at 6 and a couple of men came in shortly afterwards (It is around 75-80% men). This was my first surprise I guess, as I expected a bit of a queue out the door, and everyone who was staying to want to come straight in. In reality two or three of the clients turned up not long after 6, and the rest turned up much later. Ben said that in winter they are more keen to come inside and it was quite warm the day I was there, so I guess they didn’t mind being out. I just assumed if you’d be out all day with nowhere to really go you’d want to come in when you could, but I was wrong.

This wasn’t the only assumption of mine that was shattered over the course of the evening. I assumed most of them would be drunk or on drugs, and yes a lot of them may end up with some level of substance misuse issues when on the streets, but many do not.  Only one of the guys I met during the evening actually came across as what I would describe as a stereotypical looking homeless person. He was a funny chap, I’ll call him Ian. Ian came straight up to me when he arrived with a big hello and asked who I was. I said my name and said I was there to help out. He asked me for some squash, which I gave him and he said “You seem nice, I like you!” and off he went to sit down. I later helped him make a coffee and he was telling everyone that I’d helped – I guess maybe they don’t get help too much outside of the project. He was polite and friendly, a bit loud and quite obviously a bit all over the place, but he seemed genuinely nice. He’d been in and out of the system for over ten years. He also had ‘F *** tattooed across his knuckles!

What can I say about the others? They genuinely just seemed so normal. Later on in the evening, after dinner, Ben and I were standing in the kitchen looking out at the dining room and there were three guys watching a film on tv, drinking coffee and eating biscuits. They were friendly, and clean and, well, totally normal. If you’d have taken me in and said it was the staff room I’d have thought nothing of it.

Dinner time was genuinely really nice. We’d cooked frozen pies, roast potatoes and boiled some vegetables. I was on gravy duty and when I was dishing up they were grateful and polite, saying how nice the dinner looked.

One guy, a young guy about my age, I actually couldn’t really understand how he’d got himself in this situation. He was really eloquent and was asking questions about how to get onto the next steps of accommodation, obviously wanting to sort something out. He had dinner, and then after 8pm once everyone has eaten they’re allowed seconds. He ended up having four pies!

Of course not all evenings are like this. I can imagine at times it can be really tough, and I can imagine how different some of the clients could have been if they’d been drinking or it had just been another day. But genuinely I couldn’t believe the normal-ness of everyone who was there. It’s probably incredibly naive of me to assume all homeless people would be rude and anti-social, and I’ll certainly change my opinion going forward.

It also hit home that anyone can get into these situations. Jason told me of a guy at another shelter who had been a very well respected Judge, and had turned up to Court drunk. He’d lost his job and his wife, and had ended up homeless.

Following my evening shift, I’m going to look into working at the project a couple of nights a month. Enjoyed is the wrong word, but I found the evening really humbling, enlightening, and a really positive experience. To be honest, I think the project had a better impact on me as a person than I did on them as a volunteer!