News ID: 235552
Published: 1219 GMT December 10, 2018

UK homeless charities turn away Christmas volunteers

UK homeless charities turn away Christmas volunteers

Homeless charities are being forced to turn down thousands of volunteer applications for the Christmas season, despite many struggling to recruit people at other times of the year.

Organizations including the Salvation Army, Crisis and Emmaus have been overwhelmed with people offering to help with tasks such as serving up Christmas lunch at homeless shelters in the UK, wrote.

During the festive period, Crisis opens specialist Christmas centers in major cities including Birmingham and London to provide food, warmth and services such as haircuts, health checkups and skills workshops to vulnerable people.

Last year, 10,930 people volunteered at the centers, but a spokesperson for the charity said the number of people applying to volunteer far exceeds the number of places they’re able to offer.

Jon Sparkes, Crisis’ chief executive, said, “It’s a real testament to the generosity of spirit and giving that this time of year brings.

“Demand for year-round volunteering is also high though – since 2016 numbers have more than doubled, with 1,060 people giving up their time to help in our shops, support our fundraising events and lend their expertise to homeless people last year.”

Reports of an increase in homelessness are through to have led to wider public awareness about the issue. At least 320,000 people are homeless in Britain, according to research by the housing charity Shelter.

Emmaus runs 29 “communities” across the UK where previously homeless people are given a room, food and a weekly allowance in return for working in one of its social enterprises. An organization-wide policy to not accept people without a DBS (disclosure and barring service) check means that Christmas volunteers are rarely accepted. Instead, volunteers who work with the charity throughout the year take on Christmas shifts.

The director of the charity’s Hull and East Riding branch, Kelly Finnis, said, “We typically get two applications a month but since the start of December we’ve turned down 13 people who wanted to work just on Christmas day.

“It’s kind and well-meaning but we want commitment all year through. A flash in the pan just doesn’t work for us – vulnerable adults that are already at their lowest ebb at Christmas don’t want to be around strangers. They want to be around people they know and trust.”

Claire Bonham, the strategic lead on volunteering at the Salvation Army, also encouraged people to volunteer at other times of the year when the charity was less well-staffed.

“It’s lovely that people think of others at Christmas. It’s just that a cold February evening at a night shelter is not on people’s minds because they’ve done Christmas and moved on,” said Bonham.

“I’m not knocking people at all, but I’d love people to volunteer all year round.”

While the charity’s all-year round services are chronically understaffed in some areas, vacancies for volunteers in December are usually filled up by August or September. Their winter night shelters run from November to mid-March.

“A lot of places will run a lunch or an event they wouldn’t run at another time of year because they know they won’t struggle to get the volunteers,” added Bonham.

While some charity workers encourage people to offer help outside of December, others believe the influx of volunteers may help them to recruit at more stretched times of the year.

Iver Morgan, St. Mungo’s head of volunteering, said, “Although short-term help is not always what we need, it helps us open up a conversation about the longer term. This can be sharing a skill, running activities or helping our outreach teams during winter.”

It can also give overworked volunteers time to recharge. Naseem Talukdar, the founder of Feed the Homeless Bristol, said, “We also get hundreds of messages and volunteer requests over November-December and lack volunteers the rest of year. We step back over Christmas to save our energy for January and February. ”


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