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Kingston University student shares how experience in homeless shelter changed her perspective

By Chloe L Wright Jan 30, 2020
Homeless boys burning things to keep warm. Photo: RexFeatures

There is something inside you that makes you feel like the worst person on the planet when you volunteer at a homeless shelter.

I recently spent some time at the Winter Night Shelter run by Kingston Churches Action on Homelessness, expecting an experience to give back to the community.

I did not expect the overwhelming feeling of guilt to sneak up on me. 

On the one hand, you are doing a genuinely tremendous thing by giving your time to help those who are less fortunate than you are.

On the other hand, you know what you have sat at home.

You know your fridge-freezer is full of food, but you know if you are feeling lazy, you have an up-to-date smartphone where you can order food at the click of a button.

You know you have a lovely warm bed waiting for you, and you know you can turn the heating on if it’s cold, have a hot shower and bundle up into clean, cosy pyjamas and blankets.

And they can’t do any of this because they have nothing.

Society seems to enjoy blaming the homeless themselves for their situation, and I can assure you that is not always the case.

One man I met at the shelter served in the army, came home with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and ended up homeless after being unable to get a job.

Another woman did not receive the medical care she required and could not work, so could not pay her bills.

When I finished my shift at the Winter Night Shelter, I walked out onto the path, stopped, and burst into tears right there.

I could not comprehend how they were living the way they were or how they remained so generally positive.

I felt guilty over situations I had no control over, and I cried the entire half an hour walk home.

And it is that feeling that I will have every time I see a homeless person – a tight squeezing pang of guilt in my chest every single time.

It really does change your perspective.

By Chloe L Wright

Multimedia Editor

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