Things have gotten worse in the last year, according to Andrea Bell of the Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen:
Things haven’t changed for the positive. The poor are getting poorer, it’s as simple as that.
Speaking to Gav Henderson of Roker Report, she recounted a story of a homeless person who knocked on the door of Albert’s Place takeaway on High Street West to tell her they’d been urinated on by passers-by on the streets of our city.
The takeaway was closed, so she took this poor soul down the street for a slice of pizza and a chat about football and life. As she sat listening to the stories, a group of locals started shouting abuse at them.
That was the term thrown in disgust at the sight of a human being in need of some food. Scum. The detritus from a coal mine, the unwanted foam on waste water, the slime on the surface of a stagnant pool.
As if living on the streets this winter isn’t degrading enough, Sunderland’s homeless people face this kind of dehumanising language and these despicable acts of cruelty at the hands of their fellow Mackems on a daily basis.
Andrea senses a growing deficit of empathy in our society.
Those whose way of coping with the ravages of this world is to turn to addictive substances are demonised and seen as undeserving of her support, even by people who’ve needed the Soup Kitchen’s help to feed themselves in the past.
When economic times are hard and when working people are effectively competing for the scraps cast down from the top table, this is what happens. People turn on one another. It’s hard to show kindness and empathy when people are scared senseless by a disintegrating economy.
So what’s the solution to this crisis of empathy?
Andrea was on a BBC phone-in a short time ago, and she asked the other people involved for one thing - one positive thing on the horizon - that could give hope to people.
Nobody had an answer.
Yet for us here at Roker Report, and for many others in our football community, the fact that Andrea and her volunteers are there, 365 days a year, helping anyone and everyone who comes to their door, is what gives us hope.
Collective and individual actions are the solution, and can change attitudes too.
For Andrea, even the simple act of giving a cold and homeless person a cup of coffee can be transformative:
It’s more of a message to say, “that person is important”, because they’re not important to very many people.
We’re the positive side of poverty, as you’ve seen. No questions, dignified, and [together with Roker Report] we’ve turned into our ‘Soupy family’. It’s a place where people are welcomed with open arms. We’re respectful to people, and they’re respectful back.
Actions taken by citizens themselves and on behalf of citizens by our local politicians and officials can help too, and on that front at least, Andrea is probably more positive than in previous years:
City-wide, there are lots of good provisions. There are organisations popping up all over. We were instigators in fruit and veg and now that’s pretty much city-wide.
We’ve been in negotiations with the council about an idea we’ve had for three years for sleeping pods, and that’s looking very promising. This would be a ‘crash pad’ where people can spend the night and be picked up by support services in the morning who’ll wrap them in their arms and look after them.
That’s a big step in the right direction, and that’s the work that we do.
Andrea and her team have had the vision of a more caring, more compassionate, healthier, better-fed, and warmer city. A city made better with love. And they need your help to make it happen.
Please donate what you can to the Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen in the final few days of our fundraiser. Please share these stories. Please share the links with your friends and family on social media.
Talk about this crisis with the people around you and find ways, big and small, to make a difference.
If you’ve only got a quid you can buy a raffle ticket and be in with the chance of winning some brilliant 1973 FA Cup final memorabilia. Every penny is spent on helping people in need in our city.