Taking strides for the homeless



Online Food Editor Sarah Roller discusses her walking challenge to raise funds for Bristol's homeless

Moving to Bristol from a small, genteel, incredibly middle-class city 3 years ago was a bit of a shock to the system. The thing that struck me most of all by the end of Freshers’ Week was the sheer amount of people I’d seen begging and sleeping on the streets: I couldn’t quite believe it. Every night, someone was asking for my change. I walked past 3 Big Issue sellers every day as I walked to and from campus.

Last summer, I spent 2 weeks volunteering at The Big Issue Foundation – their motto is ‘a hand-up not a hand-out’, and they offer legal, regulated work (selling the magazine) to anyone who comes through their doors. But, whilst I was there, it became clear that the Big Issue is not just a magazine. Vendors automatically get offered help by staff at the Foundation, whether it’s referrals, advice on where to get a bed, registering at a GP, CV workshops, opening a bank account, or tackling addiction problems.

when the chance came to fundraise for the Foundation instead, I jumped at it

Taking people off the streets is the first step – it solves the symptoms of the problem. And in relative terms, it’s pretty easy to do. With a bit of co-operation from both local and national government, it would take remarkably little time or money to find beds for all those who currently shelter under doorways. In the grand scheme of problems in the 21st century, this one is so easily fixable that it seems shocking we haven’t managed to do so yet. But that’s only the start. Helping people tackle the root causes of homelessness is what really matters, and that’s exactly what the Foundation does.

Big Issue seller (Flickr/Saints Foundation and the Big Issue/Lewis Commons)

I had every intention of going back to volunteer there once or twice a week this year: not least because the people I met were so great, and I have so much to learn from them. Unsurprisingly, given the hectic terms of 3rd Year, I didn’t manage to give up any more of my time: so when the chance came to fundraise for the Foundation instead, I jumped at it.

Originally I was planning to do a sleep-out, but thanks to the Beast from the East, this ended up being cancelled – so in order to fulfill my obligations to all those who had donated, I decided instead to take up their Big Step Challenge. Their target was 10,000 steps a day – which is what we’re meant to do to stay healthy anyway. In order to make it a bit more of a challenge, I decided to up it to 252,000 in 2 weeks, which breaks down to 18,000 a day. Many, many steps.

It has been incredibly good at forcing me out of the house (9pm walks across Bristol anyone?) in a desperate attempt to meet 18,000 steps after a day of dissertation work, as well as making me much more pro-active. I’ve taken out the bins regularly (running up and down many many flights of stairs in the process), gone to Sainsbury’s rather than asked my flatmates to grab something for me, and signed up for more exercise classes than ever before. So far, I’m averaging out pretty much on track – and am yet to feel any aches and pains.

Of all the people in the UK 40% have £100 or less in savings available to them

Fund-raising has probably been the easiest part of the whole thing, to be honest. I’ve been genuinely astounded by how generous my friends have been, and I smashed the necessary fund-raising target in less than a week. It means a lot to me that people are willing to give their much-beloved student loan / earnings to charity, and I am very grateful that they are.

What has struck me more than most as I’ve learned about homelessness is that it could happen to anyone. Homeless people struggle with exactly the same problems as the rest of the population – employment, paying rent, relationships, and often substance abuse. Of all the people in the UK 40% have £100 or less in savings available to them. Homelessness really isn’t that far away from any of us, which makes it an even more pertinent problem to tackle.

Bristol has been my home for 3 years, and I feel very lucky to have got to spent time in this city. It sounds like such a cliché, a nostalgic third year looking back at it through rose-tinted glasses, but it’s true. Bristol is so much more than a university, and in raising money for The Big Issue, hopefully I will have been able to give something back to the city that has given so much to me.

Featured image: Unsplash/Matt Collamer

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Sarah Roller

Online Food Editor 2017/18, final year History student & enthusiast about pretty much everything except mushrooms.