We Can’t Turn Our Backs on Them

In 2017, ATD Fourth World invited people around the world to document real-life “Stories of Change”. These stories are about situations of injustice and exclusion caused by extreme poverty. Written by activists, community leaders, and others, they show that when people work together, real change can happen.
Learn more about “Stories of Change”.

By Janet and Richard Pier (United Kingdom)

A couple who experienced poverty works with “The Shop” to help other people.

We are a couple who first met ATD Fourth World in the early 1990’s through our friends, Sue and Fred. They were involved in a number of activities and they brought us along to events at Frimhurst Family House and Addington Square*.

We were homeless at this time. Life was a struggle; we knew it from both sides of the coin. But we wanted to do something useful with the time we had on our hands. We decided to volunteer in The Shop where many other people without a place to live came.

The Shop

Five people from the church we’d been attending for 20 years started The Shop. Three years ago, they got together because they saw that there were many homeless people living in our area. They wanted to find a way to support these people. Now The Shop is open six days a week. People can come and stay as long as they like. We never ask them to move on, unless the place gets too full of course!

We volunteer our time at least five days a week. We also help regularly at the night shelter part of The Shop. Each night, there are at least 15 people there. Sometimes, they need help to fill out forms to get their welfare benefits. Some people have difficulty reading, writing, or speaking English. Our busiest times are on weekends.

Many of these people do not understand their rights. When people don’t have benefits, it’s very hard, especially for immigrants who mainly come from Eastern European countries. Some people we meet have problems with drugs and alcohol. However, we cannot allow people with these issues into the night shelter.

We encourage people to use The Shop as a postal address to help them to get the housing benefits they have a right to. We don’t give up on anyone we meet because we are fighting for them. They are human beings who need help and we can’t turn our backs on them.

“We don’t give up on anyone”

We remember meeting Dean who was about 40 years old. He came into The Shop the first winter it was open. Dean would come by, always asking to talk to either one of us. He had an addiction to drugs and alcohol. We always tried to take the time to listen to him. He needed to know someone cared and that we wouldn’t give up on him.

We don’t ask questions about people’s lives. Instead we give them time to tell us things if and when they want to. It’s a way of trusting each other.

One day Dean came in and said to us, “I’ve had enough; I need to stop all this”. We worked hard to help him get on a rehabilitation course that lasted about three months. After the program they sent Dean to Birmingham where he got his own home and a job.

Suddenly one day he turned up at The Shop looking for us. At first we didn’t recognise him at all because he looked so different. He had come to tell us how his life had changed and that he was doing really well. He said, “Well, if it wasn’t for you both, I would really have given up”. Dean’s life has very much touched our own. He still comes to visit us every year when he comes to London.

We never knew

Last year, Bridget came to help us out in The Shop. She had epilepsy, like our own daughter, and each day she had a fit. She really liked her job here, but she had to leave because of her health. Then one day, Bridget was with her mother when she had a very sudden fit. She collapsed and died. We were very upset and we all went to her funeral. Afterwards, we put Bridget’s photo up in The Shop next to a cross decorated with flowers so that whoever came into The Shop could remember her. When her mother heard what we had done for Bridget, she came one morning with her own huge bunch of flowers to put by her daughter’s photo. That was the first time we learned that Bridget and her mother were homeless. We still stay in contact with Bridget’s mother.

We’ve made a commitment to this work and we enjoy it. It’s definitely a big part of our lives now.

*ATD Fourth World offices in the UK.

Read more Stories of Change.

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