I volunteer once weekly at an outreach centre in London that offers those in need gratis showers, unlimited tea, computer facilities, hot meals and laundry washed for a few quid, a place to sit and watch TV, talk with others, or be left alone. Interestingly, the clients aren't solidly from the UK. Yes, there is a large contingent from right around this area, but many more are from not just other parts of LDN and the UK, but also from Central and Eastern Europe, bits of Asia, Africa, and Western Europe. Most of those who use the centre are men, but there are women among the crowd.
Here are a few snippets of what I've seen and/or experienced over the past month:
I went in yesterday and saw a middle-aged woman sitting alone at a corner table. I recognised her from previous visits, but wasn't sure if she were English-speaking or not. I noticed that she had a purple bruise under her left eye. I assumed she'd been hit. Another worker at the centre told me that she'd been attacked right outside by another client just a few days past. He had knocked her down, hit her in the eye and taken the valuable contents of her handbag. He'd been drunk, I was told, almost as if that were supposed to have excused his behaviour.
Three young adults from Spain were in the week before. They had a sort of shaggy look and wore ill-fitting, second-hand-looking clothes. The young man wore his hair in an outgrown mohawk and all three of them had multiple facial and ear piercings. Their English was pretty poor, but I was able to suss out from one of the girls as she waited for the women's shower to be tidied that they were in London to look for work. The Spanish economy is floundering and they felt that they had to leave home in order to find employment. Without much English they may be in for a long and bumpy job search.
Two weeks ago I helped a Pakistani couple fill out citizenship paperwork. The husband has been in the UK for 15 years and the wife 8 years. Their adult children are spread out between London and back home. The husband's English was fluent, but thickly accented and his wife spoke almost no English. 'Helping' meant actually filling out the paperwork for them while they sat and looked on. The husband had written down the dates of birth for both him and his wife on a scrap of paper quite legibly, so I'm sure that he didn't really need my help with completing his form. However, when it came to having his wife sign her document, I realised that she was illiterate and didn't know how to give her signature. She instead wrote in scrawled print the five letters of her name. I didn't think that what she'd written would be accepted by whomever were to accept her application, but I didn't say anything. Maybe I'm wrong.
A tidy young man came in a few weeks back in the afternoon looking for someone to help him find housing. He was well-dressed, healthy-looking, and, judging by the caliber of his clothes, not without money. It was hard to fathom that he was without a place to live, but I'm not at the centre to judge. The advice personnel are, understandably, busy throughout the day. The man 'couldn't be bothered' to wait, and, after a few minutes of talking to me, left. That was, of course, precisely the moment that the person able to advise him became free. -such bad timing.