There are more than 450 soup kitchens in London. Amidst concerns for the safety of their volunteers, combined with a reduction in donations brought on by the virus, many have suspended operations. A handful, roughly 5%, have adapted the way they deliver their service to ensure their guests get a hot meal daily.
Our soup kitchen in Whitfield Street, central London is one of them. We have evolved from feeding around 120 daily guests on site, to a slickly run operation, serving hot, nutritious and tasty take-out food from a hole in the wall type set-up.
Led by our core team; Alex, Jessie, Chef Lauren (who gave up her job as the private chef on a super yacht to work here) and Naomi, we’ve been open every day of the pandemic. The service is much needed as the socially distanced queue outside testifies to…
This week I’ve helped on the impressively organised line that ensures the food is fresh cooked and served up while it’s still hot.
I can’t heap enough praise on the team. Most of us see a light at the end of the Covid tunnel. The only uncertainty is; how long is the tunnel?
For our homeless guests, this journey must seem a lot longer and a lot heavier to traverse. The Whitfield Street team have been helping to lighten the load a little.
For some of our guests though, even when Covid stops blighting the horizon, the light at the end of the tunnel may remain a distant spec…
Last July, after a long crowdfunding campaign, we launched Europe’s (and very possibly the world’s) FIRST ever mental health drop-in clinic inside a soup kitchen. It was widely covered at media – The BBC and ITV broadcast news featured the launch, as did The Guardian, the Big Issue and many others.
Because it involves one-to-one counselling at close quarters in a small consultation room on site, this is one area of service that we’ve had to suspend. We know this service is sorely missed for some of our visitors.
The reduction of funding for mental health services, social care and outreach in the NHS is one of the reasons that homelessness is more visible on our streets. According to Homeless.org it has increased by 141% since 2010. Not only that, as many as 80% of homeless people have some form of mental health problem.
Adverse Childhood Experiences
Dr Brett Grellier, the counselling psychologist who leads our drop-in centre work, tells me that around 95% of homeless people have experienced four or more adverse childhood experiences, compared to just 10% of the wider UK population. These adverse childhood experiences include physical, emotional and sexual abuse, neglect, parents being incarcerated or addicted to drugs and being witness to domestic violence. Despite the great need, being homeless actually reduces the likelihood of being seen by a mental health professional. This makes sufferers more likely to remain one of London’s estimated (by Shelter) 180,000 rough sleepers and sofa surfers.
It is this fact that was the original inspiration behind our drop-in centre.
Covid obviously remains a significant problem for all homeless people.
In many other ways, it’s just something else to deal with to get through the day.
Dr Brett Grellier (front left), Cognitive Behavioural Therapist Dobrochna Zajas (front centre) with myself (left back), Whitefield Charity SK Corporation Chair Connie Jackson (centre back), and Soup Kitchen Director Alex Brown (right back). Fellow Cognitive Behavioural Therapist Gareth O Halloran (front right) accompanies the team in this photo taken at the time of the drop-in centre launch.