On a quiet Sunday evening, Birmingham City Centre appeared to be collectively dealing with the Sunday scaries before the start of a new week.
But if you peered into the HomeLess One shelter, you’d be greeted with a vibrant and lively group of people. Many assume that Homeless shelters would have a sombre atmosphere, but not this one.
An hour before the doors opened to the public, the shelter was full-to-overflowing with comradery, the smell of piping hot coffee and fresh food.
The volunteers, whilst aiming to pack 200 naans in about 20 minutes, were chatting about social media trends, Olivia Rodrigo and interesting aspects of our week.
By six-thirty, the high visibility jackets were on, and a flurry of visitors were being welcomed into the centre. In just a couple of minutes, the shelter was brimming with a diverse group of people who all had one thing in common, gratitude.
Every single volunteer was dedicated to serving those in need. The very polite kid who kept asking his older brother if he could headbutt him with his football was on form, as he served the visitors bottled water with one hand and clutched onto his playing ball in the other.
CCTV Focus and HomeLess One
Before you enter the shelter, most people will be able to spot a CCTV Focus canvas pinned on the wall.
In March 2020, the launch of COVID-19 crashed the stock market and livelihoods in just one day, which left people more vulnerable than ever.
Shelters like HomeLess One catapulted into demand and the organisers saw an increase in service users.
Volunteers like Imran Gill, who lends a helping hand at the shelter after a full day at work, said the number of people using the shelter had doubled in the first three months of lockdown, and the centre welcomed almost 200 people every day.
Imran explained that having CCTV at HomeLess One is vital, he said: “The main reason we have CCTV here is for our protection and that is the first and foremost thing.”
Since installing CCTV Imran said the volunteers felt an increased sense of security on the site. Imran added: “The CCTV is for our protection and for the service users.”
Having said that, HomeLess One is sensitive towards using social media and posting pictures about the work they do here.
“You’d be surprised by how many people who come here but shy away from having their picture taken or not wanting to be noticed,” Imran said.
“I was taking a couple of pictures of the volunteers for our Facebook page, and you’ll get the odd comment from people who will say ‘please don’t include me,’ which is understandable.
“One thing we don’t do here is to take pictures of the service users out of respect.”
In most situations, CCTV cameras can provide a sense of security but the same lens being used for social media can lead to negative exposure.
Over the years, HomeLess One has relied on using word of mouth over social media to spread awareness towards their services and the issue of homelessness in Birmingham.
Iman Ali,14, who helps out at the shelter, said she started volunteering at the age of seven.
“When I was in Primary school, I had to do a speech on homelessness and there were a lot of people who didn’t know what homelessness was.
“So it was really shocking to them that there are people in the world who go without food and don’t have a home to go to,” Iman said.
(Image source: HomeLess One. The image shows a group of volunteers standing outside the HomeLess One shelter.)
The HomeLess One Shelter
This March marked COVID-19’s first birthday in England and Imran reflected on the collateral damage the virus has caused as a one-year-old.
Imran said: “With COVID-19 in place, you will find a lot of people, not just homeless people, who have fallen back on hard times and are now having to depend on us, so shelters like this are key from that angle.
“Not everybody comes across as homeless, lots of people come smartly dressed, and we don’t judge here, we serve everybody and anybody. We don’t ask questions,” Imran added.
(Image source: @Newis.art. The image shows a man accepting a cupcake from a man dressed in a black hoodie.)
During the pandemic, alongside hot meals, HomeLess One has provided people with COVID-19 vaccinations, veterinary care for pets, accommodation and clothing.
As the shelter continues to grow and help more people, Imran said a key focus for the charity has been to support people who are affected by domestic violence.
“One of the areas that we do cover are domestic abuse victims. We are heavily focused on that and it’s something that has always been rife in Asian communities particularly and it does get quite unnoticed.
“We have a lot of women volunteers during the week who come in and not only just help out here but also go out to their places of residence and give them the relevant support,” Imran added.
Thousands of people in Birmingham are affected by homelessness. But volunteers like Imran Gill and Iman Ali, are quietly determined to make the world a better place for those in need.
CCTV Focus is proud to have collaborated with the HomeLess One team.
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Feature Image: Illustrated by Andrew Newis, illustrator, videographer and artist. The image shows an illustration of a homeless shelter serving food.