“Sunday can be a lonely day, a very bad day for people out on the streets” says Sunday Centre’s Chairman
“I have mixed feelings.” said Steve Clark while thinking on his time working at the Sunday Centre. “I really enjoy working with volunteers, I get on well and enjoy meeting most of the people who come to us for food but that enjoyment is qualified by the fact that people are in the extreme need.
“I’m glad that I do it, I enjoy doing it but I do worry about people that come to us and sometimes some of the things that people tell me, make me very sad.”
Steve started volunteering over 25 years ago when his friend asked him if he could help out with a project in Sheffield, which works at Christmas time, providing food and things for people who are homeless.
Steve told Steel City Insider: “I said to my friend, ‘Yes, I’ll do that’, and I found I quite enjoy doing it. I got along with the people who came for food and through that Christmas volunteering I found out that there was a project that worked every Sunday, and I started volunteering with them, and I’ve never stopped.”
The Sunday Centre got its name in January 1991 when a group of volunteers met to discuss the possibility of opening a shelter on Sunday afternoons for the homeless of Sheffield. Steve told Steel City Insider that on other days of the week support is available for the homeless and vulnerable but no services are available on the weekends.
Steve said: “The other thing about Sunday is it can be a very lonely day if you’ve not got social contacts, if you’ve not got money, not got somewhere nice to go, it can be a really depressing day. It can be a very bad day for some people who are out on the streets.”
The centre sees volunteers coming from all across Sheffield, including students from both universities. The Sunday Centre prides itself in keeping volunteers and those who come in safe by setting strict rules for everyone involved.
Steve explained: “We are there to provide good food, we are there to be friendly and welcoming, and a safe place to come but it would be completely inappropriate for volunteers to form relationships with people who come to us and we wouldn’t be able to manage safeguarding. So one of the things we say to our volunteers is that they must not contact guests outside the project and must not visit them at home.”
During the day, volunteers help the homeless and vulnerable as much as they can but have to remember to keep a balance between being friendly and professional. Steve and more experienced members at the centre are always on site to help out and advise volunteers when needed.
Through the years, Steve was able to understand and implement certain guidelines to keep his personal feelings separate from volunteering. “In terms of my personal feelings, for better or for worse I work on a basis-I do what I can. There are things that I can’t do, I can’t advise somebody on alcohol, substance abuse, I can’t find a home for somebody who’s got no home, I can’t provide mental health care, that’s not my skill set.
“What I can do is talk about football, talk about the weather, chat to people and make sure they’re getting food that is going to make a difference for that day. I focus on what I can do rather than the long list of things I can’t do but there are still some days when I go home when I worry about people who have been to us.”
The number of volunteers in the Sunday Centre and other charities have increased in the past years. Steve explains it is understandable when people are cautious and wary with homeless people.
“Some of the people that come in to us are quite difficult to look after. If you volunteer at a place like the Sunday Centre, you’ll be working alongside people who are experienced and know what they’re doing, you’re working in an environment that’s got procedures and policies to keep everyone safe. I think we can make that challenging experience, one which is safe, and because it’s safe I think people can enjoy it and relax into it.”
Steve said: “I think if people look into volunteering they need to find a project that has thought about serious issues, do training and development, look after the volunteers and have the right staff to volunteer ratio, so everybody’s safe and happy with what they’re doing.”
When thinking about the future of the Sunday Centre, Steve says he is mostly positive however, some things still make him sad. “The only thing that makes me pessimistic is that I’ve done this for over 25 years, some people that have come to us weren’t even born when I started.
“The demand for our help never gets any better, it’s always there. I am troubled by thinking that no matter how hard we work, next year there will still be 90 people coming for food, the year after that there will still be 90 people coming in because as a society we are not getting to the root causes and the prevention of that, and that because it is very difficult.
“It is not an easy thing to solve but I hope we will be able to continue raising money to keep going. I think there will always be a need for the Sunday Centre and I hope while that need is still there we can step forward and meet that need.”