Humans of Brum – Being Homeless in the Second City
Over the past few months, we have been telling stories from some of Birmingham’s homeless community.
Hearing their insights, thoughts, worries and passions inspired us to help them as best we could. This led us to SIFA Fireside – a Birmingham-based charity which supplies meals and practical services to homeless, and rough sleeping individuals.
We went to speak to Melissa Roche, the Fundraising and Corporate Partnerships Manager at SIFA Fireside.
GET TO KNOW – Melissa Roche
What advice would you give your 18 year old self? Be grateful and appreciative for everything you’ve got. Music that’s stuck in your head at the moment? I love country music right now! Best thing about Christmas? Spending time with family.
The following responses are taken from an interview with Melissa Roche
SIFA Fireside is a place for collaborative working. We are all about giving our clients the best access to services. Whether this is speaking to a lawyer, a nurse, a dentist or an occupational specialist, we offer a place where the homeless can get the practical help they need. We work in partnership with other agencies to help with money management, addiction and food provision. We provide hearty meals every day for the people who come here. SIFA Fireside is for anyone – whether you’re sleeping rough, in a hostel or a bedsit. As long as you can collaborate with us to help yourself, this space is for anyone.
It’s hard seeing so many vulnerable adults. Working here, I was surprised from day one. It can be overwhelming, especially seeing the older people. Every day we can see up to 170 people. Women are often put off from coming here – only 10% of the people we see are female. Often, they’re fleeing domestic violence, and don’t want to be around male-dominated spaces.
“DRUG DEALERS WAIT OUTSIDE, SELLING ESCAPISM FOR £3”
If people in Birmingham knew who we were, we’d be able to help a lot more. There are many things we need in order to support our work. We have 25 full-time staff members and support workers – we need to raise money to help them. Aside from that, the most useful thing for us would perhaps be a short film to show people what we do!
Drug dealers target people outside the drop-in zones. They’ll often wait outside, selling escapism for £3. There’s been a spice and mamba [synthetic marijuana] epidemic in recent times, and it’s appalling. Staff here are all first aid trained, but it’s still horrible to see someone completely ‘zombified’. They don’t know what they’re doing, and it can be fatal.
Losing funding has meant that some services have suffered. With recent government cuts, we have seen a loss in our funding. However, we still offer support and counselling for drug and alcohol abuse. We work with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), who support those just coming out of prison. We’re the only charity in Birmingham that offers the services we do. We have even had people walking from Coventry to access our help.
Some of our homeless clients volunteer here. We really want to help provide people with the tools and knowledge they need to get themselves on track. We help with CV writing, interview technique, and have partnerships with corporates and other agencies to help get people into work. Some of our clients also volunteer here, helping with the catering – these kinds of activities give them great working structure. We have our own band, we have guitar lessons here on Saturdays, and people play chess and other board games with each other. It’s a really important space.
I enjoy it when I have sold the story. Raising awareness for SIFA Fireside is a big job, but when I can really get across what we do, I enjoy it. I love how I can strike up relationships with the people who come in. There are people from all walks of life who come in here, interacting with them is the best part of my job.
Medstars & Humans of Brum
A few months ago, we started a social media campaign where we would interview homeless individuals in Birmingham. This was the start of Humans of Brum. At Medstars we see it as our responsibility to help members of our local community as best we can – that’s why we have been telling their stories, and raising money in the process!
Since starting the Humans of Brum campaign, we have been amazed by the stories we have heard, and the people we have met. It’s often easy to forget that those without a roof over their heads are people with emotions and lives as complex as our own. We have been lucky enough to make contact with some of the guys we have interviewed. Showing them the social media responses and messages of support made them genuinely happy, and really encouraged them knowing that thousands of people were listening to their stories and hearing what they had to say.
The human element of homelessness is important to embrace, and we were encouraged to hear many stories of generosity and kindness. Homelessness effects most communities, but in such a culturally diverse city as Birmingham, help and support for the homeless is something that transcends background or class. Especially during the winter, it is important to remember that some people will be in freezing outdoor conditions. Donating money, clothes and food will go a really long way. If you wish to donate to help people like Damien at SIFA Fireside you can do so here.
However, there is a still a lot of work left to do. With homelessness and addiction to synthetic highs rising, it is crucial that efforts are quickly made to combat these increasing rates. Every person interviewed told me of the pain and destruction caused by highs such as ‘spice’ and ‘mamba’. They have numbing effects, where their users can lose touch with all reality. They can be frozen to a spot, seeming unconscious even when standing up. [Find out more.]It is key to be able to find affordable housing in order to create a platform upon which help for mental health issues and addiction can be given.
Recently, West Midlands Mayor Andy Street has proposed a radical new scheme called Housing First. This would see addicts and the homeless be handed permanent accommodation before they started tackling their drug abuse or mental health issues. [Read more.] Proposals like Housing First are key in being able to improve the relationships between the homeless and their wider societies.
If you want to read the amazing stories of those interviewed as part of the Humans of Brum campaign, you can do so below!