Early Origins of Homeless support:
Many of you will be aware that our ‘Meals for the Homeless’ project in Ilford began in January 2021 and as we reach the anniversary of the service, we undertook a review of what was good and bad about our service.
We began our project after many years of interaction with the homeless. Through street barbecues organised to promote awareness of crime and to help towards crime reduction, Queens Jubilee events, Redbridge Carnival stalls and leading Redbridge Easter Parade, we became aware of the homeless. However after a series of outreach events through collaborations with over 10 local churches we really began to understand the scope of the needs of this often forgotten community (click here). Our friendship centre events put us in direct contact with homeless people and other local people seeking help and company and we decided to start a meals project.
Stumbled through early phase to more successful project:
Our first event had no visitors but then we stopped leaving leaflets at the sites of competitors (who should have been supportive as we were serving on a day when no-one else was), and began meeting homeless people where they were.
These trips were very productive and we rose from 4 visitors to 21 in 4 weeks in a round the table meal event . Moreover, we obtained a 5 star rating for our kitchen which we have been told is very rare (click here).
We continued the service throughout the COVID-19 pandemic when most others had stopped (click here), and with some support from Redbridge Council and Samaritans Purse (You must click here).
Even when the stores were crammed and had queues for miles we diligently waited for hours, to obtain the necessary resources for us to continue feeding the hundreds that had come to depend on us (click here).
We also gained a grant from the Mayor of London and lot’s of help from the community, enabling us to serve 65 people (homeless or economically challenged) twice a day, with many of the individuals differing from the morning and early evening distribution so user figures should be even higher (click here). Many of the visitors collected food for relatives and friends so it is impossible to gauge just how many people we helped. By now our meals and foodbank had moved into the car park of a local pub and we thank the Prince of Wales profusely. Our ability to forge partnerships has always been a key to our success.
Thanks to the leadership of Hannah Chowdhry our event was even featured on BBC TV (click here) and (here). Moreover, Hannah also wrote a wonderful article for the Ilford Historical Society comparing the homeless support of the 1920’s to modern times (click here).
Added a foodbank so families with children were supported:
We grew our service to include a food bank the first in Ilford’s most deprived ward (click here) and soon were the largest collector of food in our borough and the fourth largest in East London despite only having been operational for 3 months. Local Schools and other charities and groups began to send people to us, including the NHS and St Peters and Paul’s School.
We carried this on for a daily basis until the end of the first lockdown when it reduced to three times a week and returned into our community centre (click here). Since the end of the second lockdown we have reduced it to once a week for mothers with small children.
The service grew to include help with pathways to the temporary housing provided to all homeless people during the first lockdown. We helped 21 people enter new homes, helped them get furniture so much more with streams of offers of support from the local community (click here). We even managed to plead the case for homeless people back on the streets for poor behaviour to be rehoused, and saw many of our visitors gain new attitudes to life.
Our partnerships, type of support available for users and expected longevity of our service have grown:
Our work was soon recognised by other service providers. Westminster Drug Project began providing psycho-social support for our homeless friends -what we lay people call counselling. They also provide lateral flow tests for COVID-19 and provide pathways to vaccinations (click here) . Moreover, the NHS began undertaking Hepatology tests and synchronising visitors into treatment programmes during visits to our centre (click here).
We have continued to work with these groups and others and are serving at least 40 homeless people every week. We provide toilet rolls, toiletries and other useful items including reusable books, clothes and kitchen utensils.
Now, food is still given in boxes due to the numbers of people who we serve and because Juliet Chowdhry has a brother with a serious health condition who will always be shielding as well other volunteers.
We continue to get homeless people to use sanitizer before collecting food which is handed to them and not randomly picked up by them. This does mean they have to be very clear in what they want.
Our partnerships have expanded to local restaurants who help us with cooked food on some days, but we are still required to cook at least one meal a week. Some mornings (every 3rd week) we also invite the homeless to gain a warm bowl of porridge in the morning which may be expanded during the winter months.
We no longer have the lease for our community centre but have been able to continue our work thanks to the generosity of Al Bayan a local Mosque (click here). Through all our partnerships we can envision a long term future in serving this most needy group within Redbridge.
Of course we still need funding and your help to continue this work and if you feel moved by our report, you can donate (here) or offer support in other ways by emailing email@example.com.
Juliet Chowdhry and Rajeshri Chouhan regularly serve the Redbridge homeless eager to give them hope and a full stomach.