Volunteering with Crisis at Christmas is the only way I want to spend the Festive Season. I'll be honest, it makes me feel good to help others. I work the night shift in the Link, Rough Sleepers Centre. We look after around 230 guests. Obviously everyone is awake and lively at the start of the shift, but after 11 they start to drift off to where they are going to sleep. This is not as easy as it sounds. Most head to the large gymnasium where there are 120 camp beds laid out in rows. They are given blankets and pillows by volunteers and soon settle down for the night.
Others are not so lucky. Some, who have been beaten up on the street are nervous, they need to sleep in a lighted area, or next to the volunteer posts by the doors. Some don't sleep at all, they head to the Wide Awake area, and spend the night drinking coffee, chatting, reading, watching DVD's and catching the odd nap with their heads on the tables.
A couple of years ago, we had two guys who found the building too warm to sleep in and slept outside, by the side of the building. On the third night, it snowed heavily, the thermometer was showing -7. But they still took their sleeping bags out. Obviously we checked on them every half an hour, looking for their breath in the night air. They were tough cookies.
Over the week friendships are made both with guests and fellow volunteers. I love the fact that both groups come from all races and religions. In this time that politicians are using division to promote themselves and spreading fear, it is great to be involved with something that forges unity and positivity. Crisis at Christmas is a community, a caring community. There is no doubting the experience really makes an impression on the guests. It's always a joy to see some come back the following years as volunteers, their lives more ordered and a roof over their heads they come help others through a difficult time.
One year I became friends with a guest, let's call him Joe. He was ex-army, catering corp, and living rough. Everything he owned fitted in one duffel bag. He'd lost his Dad earlier in the year, but having no money he had walked to Leeds to lay flowers on his father's grave and then walked back to London, the round trip taking 6 weeks. By the end of the week with Crisis, he'd had a full check up health wise, including much needed treatment for his feet, he had new clothes, an abscessed tooth removed, and a flat found for him. A bad year had taken a turn for the better. The next year he was a volunteer. He had a job as a cook for a family in Kensington and was enjoying life to the full, but he said it was important to put back what he'd received.
Homelessness is on the rise. It is 2016! No one should be in this situation but they are. If you can give anything, time or donations, please go to the Crisis website.
HuffPost UK is running a fortnight-long focus around helping others this Christmas. Giving Back will shine a light on the organisations and individuals making a difference in their community, tackling issues such as loneliness, homelessness, food waste and financial struggle. We'd also love to hear your stories. To blog for Giving Back, email firstname.lastname@example.org. To keep up to date with our features and find tips on how you can make a difference this Christmas, follow the hashtag #GivingBack.