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  • Writer's pictureRachael Fulton

Mission To Help The Homeless

Every Autumn, schools, businesses and churches around Glasgow collect tins of food to give to the city's homeless and disadvantaged people.

Crates of 'ambient food' - soups, tinned puddings, spaghetti hoops and other easily transported, long-lasting products are brought into the City Mission. It is 'harvest time' - the Christian thanksgiving celebration at the September equinox.

By the end of the season, the Mission's store is usually packed. Last year it was filled with 50,000 tins which are made into food parcels and given to people across Glasgow over the course of 12 months.

However, despite this huge quantity of food, the Mission ran out of tins in June this year and had to revert to giving out emergency food parcels only.

"We gave out 11,000 food parcels last year," said Graham Steven, who works at the mission.

"We had 50,000 tins donated - which if you stacked them on top of one another would be the equivalent of four times the height of Ben Nevis - but it still wasn't enough to meet demand."

Established in 1826, Glasgow City Mission is the eldest of its kind in the world. Although a Christian charity, the centre caters to people of all religious denominations through a variety of activities and services.

"We try to build people's confidence and social skills, to try and convey that they have value in our eyes, " Graham explained.

"A lot of these people have been told for years that they are useless and will never amount to anything, or that they've failed - we're here to tell them that we don't think that and get them onto the next stepping stone."

Every afternoon, a Mission van driver makes the rounds of Pret-A-Manger, Jules Deli, Bradfords, Greggs and EAT to pick up sandwiches, scones and other goods that would otherwise go to waste.

They are brought back to the Mission, unpacked and served by a group of volunteers to approximately 150 men and women shuffling through the doors to be fed.

The organisation also provide rolls and sausage and soup made in their own kitchens, and give out two food parcels a week full of tins from the store.

"You still imagine a lot of homeless old men, with scruffy beards and old clothes. They are few and far between," said Graham.

"They are mostly young guys in their twenties with drug problems, some older men with alcohol problems, some people who have had their marriage break down or their business fold.

"Some international people who come here with no addictions but need help to integrate in to Glasgow and don't have the right to any benefits. The range of people asking for food is quite broad."

The Mission does more than provide food for Glasgow's vulnerable. The organisation hosts many activities including IT, art and music that might serve to boost an individual's morale and employability.

Barry O Donnell, 32, started coming to the Mission when he lost his job to break the monotony of unemployment and try new hobbies.

Sitting in the Mission's young men's lunch club, he said: "Three or four years ago I was out of work and down on my luck.

"I came and did a few things here just to get by and I've been coming here for awhile now. Hopefully it's onwards and upwards.

"When I lost my job, I worked a few others but the stress just accumulates and accumulates and you think nothing's going to go right and you stay in that mind set. It's soul crushing.

"My friend told me to come down here and it really picked me up. You get fed up of the same old mundane kind of things and it helps you get out of that mind set."

Above the cafeteria floors, the Mission holds a small gym, music studio, IT and Art classroom. The latter is filled with pictures painted by the Mission's service users, its shelves lined with clay creations that have been crafted and fired within the building.

The service users are able to express their creativity, learn how to channel their energy in a different way and be distracted from the difficulties of their everyday lives during these classes.

The five-storey building in Crimea Street that hosts the Mission was gifted to the organisation through a great stroke of luck and coincidence. Once housed in a small scout hall nearby, the Mission began to become closed-in by developers buying land around it.

When the developers asked to buy the Mission, they offered to build a new one for the organisation elsewhere. Thanks to the building stipulations of the flourishing financial district, the new Mission had to expand to five storeys - giving the charity room for its activity spaces.

"The move allowed us to do amazing things," said Graham.

"Though what we are continuing to find is more demands are being made on us. There's a 20% increase year on year of people coming to use our facilities.

"We're finding it increasingly hard to get money. We've seen an increase in the number of donations, but they are smaller than they have been in the past."

The organisation has an annual budget of £700,000 and receives no government funding, aside from the statutory fund given to nurseries to provide for service users' children.

All other funding comes from donations from charitable trusts, businesses, churches and individuals. After the financial crisis, the Mission has seen much of its funding slowly fizzle out and charitable trusts becoming more specific in their requirements for charitable donations.

For people like Robert Scott, who rely heavily on the services the centre provides, this lack of funding is a threat to a community which keeps the vulnerable people of Glasgow going.

The 38-year-old is now living in supported accommodation, but used to sleep rough underneath the city's bridges and bushes when he was out on the street.

"My family didn't have any room for me, they didn't have any space. So I became homeless," said Robert.

"The mission's done a lot for me, it's been really good for me. Anything I want, they are here to give me - like food and toiletries. Like T-shirts, boxers, socks, shaving foam, razors.

"The staff are really good. They're nice, they do anything for you. I like talking to them and getting on with them.

"I say my prayers. I come here and if I want to pray one of the staff will come over and sit with me and say the prayer with me. It makes me really happy."

The City Mission are always looking for tinned food donations, as long as the food is not out of date. Their harvest store is gradually filling up thanks to the help of communities collecting and gifting tins to those less fortunate than themselves.

The organisation is also hosting a black tie dinner event at the Radisson Blu hotel on Saturday, October 27 to raise funds. The £75 ticket price includes a four course meal, drinks reception, after dinner speaker, ceilidh band and charity auction plus a £15 donation to the charity.

"When people see what we do and the way that we do it, they get excited," said Graham.

"We're doing something very practical and have a genuine heart for these people."

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