Peter from the LiFT project, based at Lincoln Baptist Church, shares his experience of providing food and supporting people during Covid-19 who are facing homelessness and other struggles.
You have to start with people, people get into all sorts of situations. Tragically, some of those situations overtake people when they are still young. For some victims of trauma, they face many years of struggle thereafter. But they are, first and foremost, people. Some find themselves ensnared by drugs, some experience mental ill health. Some spend periods of time in prison. And some experience homelessness. All of them, first and foremost, are people.
So I’m reluctant to say too often or too loudly, that we work with homeless people. We work with people. Because of the way we operate, and where we operate, many of the people we work with are homeless or have experienced homelessness recently. Our building, Lincoln Baptist Church, is the focal point of our work. Our project is called LiFT. Back when everything was normal, we opened the building at various times of the week and got to know people as they joined us for breakfast or lunch. For some, we offered help with accessing housing, medical support, and benefit support, among other things. But that was normal times.
A man turned up today and attempted to walk through the door and join us inside the building. We directed him to the new normal and asked him to move to the table sticking out of the other door.
‘What’s going on?’ he enquired, ‘Why can’t I come in?’
‘Because of this virus thing,’ we replied. ‘If you don’t mind us asking, what’s your situation?’
‘Well, I’ve just got out of prison.’
‘Oh, OH! Just got out? Well I guess you really don’t know then. Put it this way, because of this virus, MacDonald’s is completely closed!’
‘Wow, if McDonald’s is shut, it really is big!’
Yes, it really is big. I was asked to explain what we do now, in the Covid 19 situation. Its still about food; we know people, housed now, who say they would have died if we hadn’t been there to supply them with free food. (Please be clear, we know we aren’t the only ones offering this sort of support in Lincoln)
We now open at 07.00 and carry on until 08.30, giving bags of food to people we know to be in need and others like the gentleman just out of prison who we encountered this morning.
Food is the start. When people come to the door, we have a chat about their situation. A medical team are often with us and they are able to talk about any issues the visitor needs to discuss. We also talk about accommodation to those actually sleeping rough. The authorities do all the hard work but we sometimes play a part in getting people to the right place at the right time.
A real difficulty is getting the balance right between being supportive and encouraging on one hand, and not creating a gathering that loses sight of social distancing on the other. The problem is greatest when dealing with someone who hasn’t grasped the point yet. Then we have the, ‘no I don’t hate you, I’m not picking on you, it’s the same for the whole world’ conversation. It is tricky but most of the time, with warmth and a bit of humour, we get over it.
What is LiFT all about? Offering food to the hungry and looking out for other practical ways we can help as well.
Peter Crosby, April 2020