‘Serving upwards of 37 people a night’ joint venture provides lifeline to town’s homeless.
- Credit: Daniel Mason/Archant
Simon Crowson, known as ‘Spike’, has a shirt that reads ‘human life is not a political game’, a game he has never been willing to play.
It is the mantra he has abided to since he started helping rough sleepers and homeless people in and around Wisbech around six years ago, and that’s what he continues to abide by with his new venture, 50/50 Vision.
“It’s absolutely paramount to make people feel safe. We’re a non-judgemental organisation to help anybody that is in need,” Spike said.
Hot cooked meals were being prepared as I received a warm welcome from volunteers on my visit to the town’s Salvation Army centre on Friday, where 50/50 Vision has been operating from since March.
Since 50/50 Vision opened in partnership with the Salvation Army, 12 regular volunteers have been providing meals to rough sleepers and homeless people six nights a week, and have seen an increase in uptake.
“We’re serving upwards of 37 people a night and over the last month, we’ve seen 95 different individuals,” Spike said.
“There are lots of new service users, but there are still some of the same out of the hotels and back onto the streets.”
It was the Salvation Army who approached Spike whether he would like to use their facilities on John Thompson Road, and it has been a fruitful partnership so far.
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As evidence, Spike showed me an extensive list of names filled out by attendees each night the centre is open, to give a sense of the growing popularity of the service.
“It was about identifying a need in the town and Spike being the avenue to help make this happen,” Lieutenant Liam Beattie, church leader of the Wisbech Salvation Army centre, said.
“It’s had its teething problems, but I think it’s been a success to be honest.”
Those ‘teething’ problems, as both Spike and Liam insisted, were related to Covid-19 having not been able to run the service in the way they both hoped.
But despite being unable to allow more service users into the centre, they can arrive at the entrance, collect their meal and have a chat if they want to, which I noticed some did.
Food is the main port of call, but support in other areas is also key, such as with rehabilitation or addiction issues.
“We and Spike would say we can support you achieving those goals, then we will do our bit to get you to this centre because these centres have guidelines to be met,” Liam said.
“Because they feel invested, they’ve come back again and it’s more than just a meal in their bellies. It’s because they feel loved and invested.”
From roast dinners to chilli ‘non’ carne, variety is not an issue as each meal aims to contain a protein, carbohydrate and a vegetable, even if many service users stay put due to poor weather.
I followed Spike as he delivered spare meals to rough sleeping encampments and other hideouts in Wisbech town centre, a journey he makes “about a couple times a week.
“With everything else I’ve got going on, it’s difficult for me to schedule set appointments, so I get to them as and when I can,” he said.
One of those camps we visited was at the old vicarage gardens, which has been developing since tents were discovered there in April.
That was the only success we had on our short trip, before Spike went alone later on.
Doing what he does to help rough sleepers and homeless people, however, is something that has not always come easy.
“There will always be the odd one that is heart-wrenching at times,” he admitted.
“It’s sometimes those reminders of my past that hit home, but I’d like to think I’m now experienced enough to not allow it to affect me or my judgement.”
Before Spike started at 50/50 Vision, he helped rehome one person and looks to build on the 32 people he rehomed through 50 Backpacks.
He believes there are “over 200” homeless people in Wisbech, one example being a person with “outrageous mental health” who he said has not been picked up by the authorities.
“We’re busy every time we’re open. If everybody else did what they claimed they did, there would be no need for us,” Spike said.
On our trip around Wisbech, there was a feeling of success when one person Spike previously helped stopped to share their progress.
One of the Salvation Army’s missions is to ‘serve suffering humanity’, and although 50/50 Vision’s mission is still to be fully achieved, a new partnership could lead the way forward for many people’s lives.
“The ultimate goal would be to forge these meaningful relationships and help them get onto the next chapter of their lives,” Liam said.
Spike added: “I think with what the Salvation Army can offer and our experience from previous projects, we have experience in every field we would need to be able to help them.”