Homeless Aid is a non-funded community group of friends who wanted to make a difference and help support and feed homeless people. With over 300 volunteers based across the UK, although predominately in the North West, the groups ‘street kitchens’ feed homeless people every day in areas such as Bolton, Wigan, Greater Manchester and Liverpool.
As self-storage customers and members of our SureStore Bolton community, we caught up with Billa Ahmed, of Homeless Aid UK, to find out more about how the group operates and the support available during COVID-19.
What kind of impact has lockdown and the pandemic had on the homeless community and vulnerable people in the North West?
Unfortunately, there are still many people with complex issues living on the street. Some homeless people beg as a way to make money and the lockdown has meant they are no longer able to. This means a lot more people are going hungry, or even more hungry than they were before. So, what we do is set up street kitchens and offer outreach services.
We also do food hampers for families that are self-isolating, because as well as the people we usually help, there have been a lot of self-employed people struggling to make ends meet without an income. Do they pay the bills? Do they eat? Children being at home can be hard too as they aren’t receiving school meals, it can be really expensive. A lot of people are finding it really challenging.
What types of places and people do you receive your food donations from?
Our food donations are from the local community. Different people donate, and our volunteers are giving out around 500 to 600 meals every single week to the homeless. On top of that, we’re giving out 50 to 100 food hampers to families that are isolating.
You also received some attention earlier this month when Sky News came in to cover your story, how was that experience?
Well, we’re always contacted by the media and this time Sky News wanted to come out and find out why so many people are slipping through the net. Appearing on Sky News has raised awareness for homeless people and what’s going to happen because what we spoke about was how some people are under the impression that once lockdown is over everybody will go back to work and everything will be hunky-dory. This may not be the case. Businesses are going bankrupt, and over 2 million people have needed to claim employment benefits over the last few months. It may take years to bounce back and this needs awareness.
We see you and your volunteers from Homeless Aid UK at our Bolton storage centre almost every day, ferrying food and drink to the North West's homeless and vulnerable - How has SureStore helped facilitate your charity work during this time?
SureStore has been amazing. Jon and his team have been really, really good. They’ve given us a great space and have said that if we need any stuff dropping off, they can handle that. They’ve also taken in donations on our behalf, as it’s not always possible for us to be there at the self-storage facility. They’ve just been so helpful in different ways. Whatever we have needed they have been there for us.
Have the on-site practices and precautions allowed you to store and collect stock in a way that is safe and sanitary?
Yes, and the protocols they have in place are very good. There are tape markers on the loading bay floor for social distancing and I see them regularly cleaning and disinfecting. It doesn’t go unnoticed and the team are doing an amazing job. There’s even perspex glass now to separate customers from the SureStore team at the counters. This is important as we work with a lot of vulnerable people and obviously have our own families at home.
I feel like SureStore are doing everything in their power to keep employees and customers safe. They also allow us 24/7 access so we can do what we do and continue to help people during the pandemic.
For anyone reading this who wants to do their bit and help your cause, how can they find Homeless Aid UK and contribute?
You can visit the Homeless Aid website, or find us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter under Homeless Aid UK.
You can also drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07973214603 / 07760848980.
If you want to donate food, we accept non-perishable items only that are in-date and sealed. You can drop these off at any SureStore facility.
It’s important to work as a community, and despite recent difficulties, the Homeless Aid UK team have continued to give out hundreds of meals and have been amazing. So, here’s a special mention to them as well as the SureStore team who have helped to keep operations running. Billa would also like to thank the businesses who have made donations, as, without that vital food, people would continue to go hungry.