Thursday, December 29, 2011

Small ripples, big waves: Solving puzzles with homeless people with Crisis at Christmas

‘In 2012, I want to be happy without drugs’

‘In 2012, I wish to become a maths teacher’

‘I want to be loved and reunited with my children’…

These were just some of the wishes written on pieces of paper and stuck on as leaves on the Tree of Life for 2012 by homeless people at the Crisis Dependency Center in London this Christmas – a temporary shelter set up for those with drug or alcohol dependencies.

Christmas can be a very lonely and depressing time for people who are homeless or living in hostel accommodation. For the past 40 years, Crisis at Christmas has helped alleviate that loneliness, by providing vital companionship, hot meals and warmth, and a wide range of essential services that homeless people often miss out on. For many, being in contact with others at these centers is the first step to leaving homelessness for good.

So this Christmas John and I decided to do something positive – and set aside two days of our busy schedule to volunteer for Crisis, by offering to train, support and motivate the guests on how to solve puzzles - from crosswords, to word games to Sudoku and a range of other puzzles.

On the morning of 27th December 2011, we arrived at the Crisis Dependency Center near London’s King’s Cross station armed with numerous puzzle books kindly donated by Puzzler Media. After a briefing by Crisis coordinators, we began to mingle and start conversations with the homeless people, or guests, by asking them if they liked puzzles and if they would like to solve one together. We met some amazingly courageous people, heard some of the most poignant stories, and were given a touching insight into the lives of the guests.

Over the two days, I had some meaningful interactions with various people. I helped motivate one of the guests to complete his first ever Sudoku puzzle. He had tried many times, but had given up every time, and was so happy that he actually completed one – giving him the much needed confidence and opening doors for other opportunities which he could complete on.

I met a long time heroine addict who so desperately wanted to quit his habit for good, and I connected him with one of the Crisis Skylight Ambassadors – reformed addicts, now volunteers with Crisis, informing guests of the opportunities and assistance provided at the Crisis Skylight Center in Spitafields, London, and other areas.

I was taught by a guest so savvy with numbers and mathematics, how to solve a range of numeracy puzzles. 'Forget Sudoku, that is just a child’s puzzle compared to these other ones’ – giving him the opportunity to see what a great teacher of numeracy puzzles he could be to adults as well as young people – building the confidence and helping open doors to other possibilities.

Small acts, with the hope of creating big changes in their lives. Small ripples hoping to make big waves in 2012.

John and I loved the lively, positive atmosphere at Crisis. We were swept by the friendliness and enthusiasm of the other volunteers and coordinators and by the commitment of so many guests for a better future.

We will be volunteering again next Christmas, and hope to see some of the guests we befriended again at Crisis…but this time as volunteers – or even better, as Skylight Ambassadors.

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