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Meet a volunteer: Hazel

Whatever Hazel was expecting when she first came to the Shelter From The Storm, it wasn't what she found. “It has opened my eyes to so many things,” she says. “I have met all kinds of people there, with all kinds of backgrounds. It has shown me a side of homelessness you don't ordinarily see.” She loves talking to the guests, and was shocked to learn how just hard life had been for the some of them. “I have met some people who were sleeping rough when they were heavily pregnant, or had broken backs.” 

It has helped her too. Hazel is 34, and says she is at “a bit of a crossroads”. She spent ten years working as a shoe designer for Vivienne Westwood, but recently quit. She had never volunteered before, but she saw an advert online and thought she would give it a go. Now she is also working a yoga teacher. “I feel like I can help people that way. Talking to the guests at Shelter has made me realise that yoga can help everybody.” The volunteering work, she says, came at just the right time. “Because Shelter is such a positive place. Going there, it made me feel like anything is possible in life.”




Congratulations to our lovely apprentices

We've had two guests graduate from Pret recently - here's a little slideshow to celebrate all our guests who've successfully been through the Pret apprenticeships scheme.



We heart fundraisers: September

The following people are putting the fun into fundraising and helping us raise some much needed funds for the shelter: heroes 


Life on a zero hours contract

An anonymous account of life working on a zero hours contract by one of our guests

A zero hour contract is, as the name states, a contract that has no fixed hours. There is no actual contract. The way it works is very simple, you find an employment agency, most agencies offer zero hour contract work, sign up with them, and then the agency will call you to find out if you are available for a given job. The job can start at any time of day or night – 11am or 11pm or 3am - anytime. You have to be ready for the call of duty. The agency will ring, say they have work, then you have to be ready at the location whatever time is specified, that might be in the next half hour – or next few hours, the time usually depends on how far away the job might be. The work can be anywhere in or around London, any zone. Usually, I will use night busses to get there. Night busses are actually quite quick because at night there is no traffic.

An example of a recent job I did was in Barking. The agency called in the day to say there was a shift working in a warehouse, lifting etc., from 9.30pm to 2.30am. It took 3.5 to 4 hours to get there and the same to get back again. The pay is £6.19/hour. You pay for your own travel. I usually get a weekly bus pass which costs £19.60. A problem can be that you buy a bus pass for the week and then you don’t get any work from the agency – so your money is wasted.

The most regular shift I did was 3am to 7am at a warehouse. Generally shifts are 4-5hrs and they are always during ‘unfavourable’ hours, these are when nobody else wants to work. The only people who do it are doing it because they have no other choice.

However, despite it being really exhausting and regardless of how they treat you, I refuse to jump on the bandwagon of saying it’s criminal or exploitative. I’ve never signed on and would never do that. To me, that’s giving up, smooth sinking. Zero hour contracts are for the jobs that most people refuse to do, due to the unpredictability and the anti-social hours, but it at least helps you to keep up, to say working. You can use your ‘zero hour’ experience to help in applying for full-time work. It’s at least an option to keep working, while you look for more suitable things.

And it is a two-way thing. You can after all say you don’t want to take a job, though having said that, you then risk not being called again. The bottom line, however, is that you can withdraw your labour.

It’s a fact of commercial life in London. It’s not a new concept. These contracts have existed for ages – even when the economy was doing well. People want cheap goods, 24-hours day, this is how companies keep low prices and make big profits.

At the end of the day, you are an adult, you know you are doing these crap jobs so that you can exist whilst you looking for a better alternative.

I’m relieved that in the Autumn I start a normal warehouse job. I won’t say doing zero hours is a negative thing but I will say it was really hard, I was taking medication at night which would knock me out, nevertheless I knew that I just had to keep going and struggle to accept the jobs and keep working. I’d get woken up at all hours, I’d be so weak doing physical labour, but I’d just have to do it. You just have to battle on.


Meet a volunteer: Rachel


As Rachel prepares to say goodbye to SFTS before returning to university, one guest’s story remains stuck in her mind:  “There was this Ugandan lady, let’s call her B;  she was in her sixties and had a heart condition. She finally chose to be repatriated - I guess she wanted to die in her home country - I helped raise funds to pay for her journey, and I went to the airport to see her off. I don’t know what happened in the end, but I’ve never forgotten her.

Londoner Rachel is full of energy, and her enthusiasm is infectious.  No wonder that after joining as a volunteer in early 2011, she soon took on more responsibility, becoming a shift leader and a key worker, which meant closer attention to individual cases.  

Having completed a B.A. in theology, Rachel found that her first jobs – mainly in administration – involved hardly any direct personal contact. After arriving at the shelter in early 2011, however, she developed a passion for working with people.  “I learnt how to communicate, how to be patient, and I began to understand how people become homeless.

While she finds every case worrying, it’s the younger homeless that cause her particular concern:  “I know that I myself am just three steps away from where they are.” Her experience at the shelter helped Rachel find employment as a social worker, which in turn has led to her decision to leave London and study full-time for an M.A. in Social Work.

Rachel likes to think that, even though work at the shelter can feel like fire-fighting, it offers an honest approach with no false promises, and – above all – a safe environment:  “It’s a home.”   What will she miss?  “All the guests,” she says, “I got to know people well, and on their terms.

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