One in four homeless people will spend Christmas alone this year. And with homelessness increasing, the skills of nursing staff are more important than ever to help those in need over the festive period. Chair of the RCN Public Health Forum Jason Warriner is a trustee of homeless charity Crisis, and volunteers every year as a health care manager at one of its Crisis at Christmas centres.
“For every hour you give, you get seven hours back with what you learn and understand. As well as being richly rewarding, it’s really enhanced my career,” says Jason, who first volunteered in 2002 and took over a management role in 2007. Jason explains there are five health clinics a day between 10am and 5pm that tend to a variety of health needs.
“It could be something as simple as blood pressure, through to respiratory or sexual health. We also encounter a lot of people with mental health issues, or issues with alcohol or drug dependency. There are no hard and fast rules, it might take two minutes to help someone or it might take four hours and that’s OK too – the care we provide is totally focused around a person’s specific needs.”
Team work is crucial. “Everyone has something to contribute – doctors, nurses, HCAs, pharmacists – and we all pull together. It’s not a traditional environment so it’s not for everyone, but for many volunteers it’s a chance to do something a bit different, and spend time with people who have a common purpose. It replaces the commercial aspect of Christmas with something much more meaningful.”
Paediatric nurse Avril Burton Stewart, who works with Jason, has been volunteering for Crisis at Christmas for more than 15 years. “I have three sons and when I look at them I think, that could be them homeless with no-one to turn to, and as a mother I would be so grateful for the love and support Crisis provides.
Everyone looks after each other so you never feel like you can't cope
“A lot of our guests – those who use the health service – don’t have family, don’t have much money, and don’t know how to access health care. I am in a privileged position, and by volunteering I feel I can at least do something to help.”
Avril says there can be difficult days but you get incredible support as a volunteer. “You’re never, ever alone. Everyone looks after each other so you never feel like you can’t cope. However emotional it’s been at times I’ve always gone back as there are many people in horrific situations and you just can’t turn away from them,” she adds.
“One of the nice things about volunteering is being able to spend time with one person if you feel so inclined,” says Avril. “So many people just want someone to talk to. It’s taking nursing back to the basics and there’s something wonderful about that. Despite the challenges, it doesn’t have the same pressures as your usual day-to-day work. I find volunteering so rewarding, and work with such warm, lovely people, I’d say it’s my favourite week of the year.”
Crisis at Christmas runs from 22-29 December 2017 with centres set to open across London, Birmingham, Newcastle, Coventry and Edinburgh. The health care service is always one of the most popular on offer, giving guests access to valuable services they usually miss out on during the rest of the year. Register to volunteer on the Crisis website.