We're Not a Charity, We're Human!
Credit: Sam Ellis
Back in November 2014, in the early hours of a baltic Sunday morning in London, Anthony Burdett, 31, left the club formerly known as Pacha after DJing to join the scores of clubbers looking for a local taxi rank.
Tired, cold and at the back of the queue; Ant was waiting anxiously to climb inside a warm taxi to embark on the journey home to Epsom, Surrey, when he noticed a homeless man slumped in a doorway and shivering in the shadows.
“I left Pacha and walked to get a taxi home and I noticed John huddled in the doorway with a thin blanket wrapped around him. I was only in a t-shirt, so I asked him if I could jump under there with him. He laughed and said he could do with the body warmth so I got under the blanket and we started chatting.”
Anthony and John spoke at length about the cold, music, and what each of them had planned for the day ahead before Anthony wanted to know more about what help was offered to London's homeless men and women.
“I asked him if there was anyone doing anything to help and if there was anyone running about to drop off sleeping bags or anything else that might keep them warm. John told me that in all his years on the street that he’d never seen anyone doing anything remotely similar, which really shocked me. The homeless are still people and they were and still are being left outside to freeze.”
The morning after, Anthony realised that the homeless problem in London was nothing short of tragic. At a time when squats filled with the homeless were being subjected to dawn time raids, and when major supermarkets were installing spikes to deter the homeless from sleeping outside their stores, it quickly became apparent that the government's plan to tackle homelessness wasn’t just failing; it was nonexistent.
So Anthony decided to set up a Facebook page called The Big Warm Up, asking for donations of anything people could spare; including but not limited to: food, drinks, clothes, toiletries, rucksacks, sleeping bags, tents and dog food.
Credit: Sam Ellis
What followed was a wealth of people who were inspired by Ant’s vision, which resulted in donations coming in thick and fast, filling his living room to the brim with bags of clothes and boxes of food ready to be handed out on the streets of London and Surrey, where he would pull along a small tea and coffee trolley whilst handing out sandwiches to the hungry.
Two years later Anthony, along with his friends Alex, Chanaide and Sam are now regular faces in Victoria, running their own pop up soup kitchen every Thursday from 8pm on Victoria street. With money generated through their Go Fund Me page, The Big Warm Up have managed to buy a van and other essential items which enables the team to hand out more supplies than ever before.
“We’ve grown a lot but we still have a way to go. We have Tom from The Fellowship barber shop in Surbiton, who’ll be with us tonight and giving out free haircuts. We also have a few business’ who help on a regular basis such as Gillespie's Bakery in Epsom and All things Nice in Ewell. We’re growing, but you can only go so far in a transit van and the budget we’re on, which is next to nothing”
As for the long term, Anthony plans to ensure The Big Warm Up live up to it’s name, Expanding into other areas and offering more services.
“In the immediate future we’ll be starting a blog so people can see what we’re doing and also find out a little bit about the people we’re helping. We also want to focus on finding a base. Somewhere where we can run a bigger operation from, because at the moment we're running from a garage, my front room and a shed in the garden. We don’t have space to get organised. Once we’ve managed to get a space, we can look at expanding and taking on more teams. We’ve got enough donations to send 3 or 4 groups out each week. We’re never short on donations which never ceases to amaze me, but at the moment we’re not able to utilise it all properly."
Credit: Sam Ellis
"We’d like to open a day shelter and later down the line a night shelter. Also we’d like to set up a website which would be a directory of landlords who will take housing benefits and rent deposit schemes and also a directory of employers who would take someone on despite their circumstances. We’d like to make it into a kind of a program from the street, to us, and then back into everyday life. People don’t just come off living on the street for two years then comfortably live in a flat on benefits. It doesn’t work like that. It’s difficult to adapt. They’re normal people. A lot of them want to work and some of them already do, they just need a system that’s going to support them after they’re off the street and not leave them to fend for themselves after a week of being housed.”
Anthony has previously worked for a homeless charity, but left after it became apparent it wasn’t what he believed a charity should be. When asked what he thought was wrong with the current system, Anthony said,
“Everything. From the mental health aspect side it’s a mess. 90% of the people on the streets are either there because they’ve got mental health issues or they’ve picked an illness up on the street, addiction included. From my experience, government sponsored charities are tied to a system that can only help those who are from that particular area. There are charities out there that send people back to their local area and 10 times out of 10 if they’re sleeping rough and they’re not in their hometown, it’s because they don’t want to be there."
"Why would they? Why would they want people they know to see them down and out like that. If I was homeless I wouldn’t stay in Epsom. I’d go where no one knows me. The problem is once you turn down help from charities like No Second Night Out, it gets marked on a system called Chain which is a nationwide database. So the next time that they’re picked up by a charity, it shows that they’ve refused help before, and they’re less likely to get helped, if at all. But the help they’re offering isn’t always the help that’s needed, and once you’ve turned it down that’s it. So I’d say that's a failure.”
It’s painfully clear that homelessness is on the rise not just in London, but in the rest of Britain, and in such economic times it doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon, no matter how many of the government's empty promises are shoved in our faces.
However if my time with The Big Warm Up has taught me anything, it’s that the future isn’t in the hands of a few etonians shouting insults at each other in a hall. It’s in the hands of those like Anthony, who see’s where change is needed, then acts.