A Growing Concern
Recent Shelter reports suggest that there are now 307,000 homeless people in Britain; here in Birmingham there have around 18,000 ‘homeless’, with 132 recorded rough sleepers in last year’s annual walk round.
It’s a growing epidemic that reflects poorly both on a society that increasingly marginalises people and the failure of politicians whom are increasingly disconnected from the core problems of their country.
While the sense of community is often said to have eroded in the UK, it’s been heartening to see that it at least still flickers amongst the football supporter fraternity, who have been making efforts to address social problems on their own doorstep.
Two years ago, MOMS received an email from supporter groups in Liverpool, announcing their foodbanks initiative.
The Everton Supporters’ Trust (EST), Spirit Of Shankly Liverpool Supporters’ Union (SOS) and other local groups were organising food drops at their respective games under the motto ‘Hunger has no club colours’.
Football supporters at all levels – from the Kidderminster Harriers to Barcelona – have been having organising foodbank collections over the years; it’s also an ongoing concern in US sports with NFL & NBA fans regularly helping out their local communities.
Newcastle United are seated in the same constituency as the country’s busiest foodbank – Newcastle West End, and the Toon fans have joined forces with the club to host a home match collection point. The fans donate food and funds, collecting over £1000 and 3.5 tonnes of food at their last collection.
As well as supporting the homeless, foodbanks also help families suffering hardship (see below for how foodbanks work).
Around the same time the Liverpool and Everton fans reached out, Villa supporter and former MOMS contributor Kerry Lenihan set up Operation Drawstring, an initiative to help the homeless on the streets of Birmingham.
The social action campaign aimed to spread festive cheer to the rough sleepers/homeless on the streets of Birmingham over the holiday period.
Operation Drawstring’s team of volunteers would hand out drawstring bags (like those bags used for P.E. at school) filled with small essential items to the Birmingham homeless. Even when the items were used up, the bag would remain useful.
A couple of months ago MOMS was approached by the Football Supporters Federation (FSF) regarding a ‘Fans Supporting Foodbanks’ event in Newcastle, asking MOMS if there was anybody in the Midlands that could perhaps get involved in a foodbank initiative in the area.
MOMS informed the FSF about Kerry’s Operation Drawstring project and then put her in touch. Soon after, Kerry was heading up to Newcastle to the event and there’s been plenty of positive progress locally since (which will be announced in due course).
Meanwhile, Newcastle United foodbank this Christmas will also be collecting drawstring bags to distribute to the homeless, inspired by the Operation Drawstring project.
An Aston Villa Foodbank Collection Point?
Operation Drawstring had originally approached Aston Villa over a year ago regarding a food bank collection point at Villa Park, but the club had expressed security concerns (dropping off bags in crowded spaces).
It’s hoped in fresh talks that a positive solution will be found and that all West Midlands clubs will get involved.
After all, hunger has no club colours.
Check out: Ways you can help the homeless in Birmingham
How do Foodbanks Work?
The numbers of homeless are expected to increase this winter as the Universal Credit rollout plunges those already struggling deeper into despair.
Those fortunate enough to keep a roof over their heads may well experience other hardships in the form of food poverty, simply put they cannot raise the funds to feed themselves and their families.
This is where foodbanks can play a role in relieving the pressure of those in need for a few days at a time. Those in need can visit a local foodbank after receiving a voucher from a care worker, a GP, a school or other care professionals, which entitles them to a three day food parcel.
Foodbanks are under a lot of strain at the moment as numbers of those facing food poverty increases; this is where football fans can and have been playing their part in ensuring their communities suffer a little less.
Thanks to Kerry Lenihan for her input into this post and MOMS wishes her and her helpers a happy two-year anniversary for Operation Drawstring!
OPERATION DRAWSTRING CHRISTMAS SCREENING
Saturday 23rd December, 9-11.30am, Operation Drawstring will be hosting a Christmas Screening of Elf for the homeless community at The Electric Cinema, Birmingham.
Our guests will include those who regularly visit the weekly feed at Albert Street, members from various city hostels and homeless services and those known to Drawstring from the streets in the City. Guests will enjoy hot drinks, mince pies and receive a drawstring bag as they leave.