Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.Mary Oliver, Wild Geese
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
In memory of our lovely Charmaine and Chantel who found their way to Street Talk in 2008, and Sharon who came to us last year.
Here we are, we’ve made it together to the end of this year, dominated by the pandemic, perhaps a howl of pain from our earth, battered by business, while the voice of Black Lives Matter rose up with courage in protest against enduring injustice and brutality. Your support for this work has helped women already on the margins, made even more vulnerable by the pandemic and those who find themselves at the sharp end of racial injustice and all kinds of brutality.
Thank you all, new friends and old, for keeping Street Talk going when we have been needed more than ever before. Thank you above all for your compassion to our women. We are in this together, so let me tell you what Street Talk has been able to do this year with your help.
Lockdown changed the landscape for our women overnight. Many have no recourse to public funds and subsist on a £5 daily asylum seeker allowance. Those women rely on day centres, yet to re-open, for hot food, to use a phone and above all for company. Our migrant women have found themselves locked down in asylum seeker accommodation, some of which is barely habitable, whole families in one room, kitchens and bathrooms shared with strangers and no outdoor space.
I took a call from a woman, a survivor of trafficking, who on the eve of lockdown had been moved into asylum seeker accommodation where she didn’t know anybody. She taught me the meaning of the word lonely. She had to shield in one small room with just enough space for a single bed and a hard chair. With no laptop or television, all she had to connect her to the outside world was a basic phone, but she had no family or friends to call. She rang our helpline just to hear a human voice, speaking with us every day throughout the lockdown. One of our donors who heard about her situation had a television and some other goodies delivered to her. She wept when they arrived, the kindness meant even more than the items themselves.
Under lockdown, for the first time since Street Talk was set up, we started to get calls from women who hadn’t eaten at all for two, and in one case three days. Our work quickly adapted to getting supermarket vouchers and other emergency supplies out to anyone calling who was hungry. A special thank you to those of you who stepped up and funded this work with such generosity. We could not have done it without you.
We set up telephone helplines for women in seventeen hostels across London and two hotels that were temporarily housing rough sleepers in the borough of Camden. Rough sleepers had their temperature taken and all those with a temperature, men and women alike, were put in one hotel, while the rest were put in another. You can imagine how scared people were, not only of the virus but also of being locked down among strangers, struggling with mental illness and addictions. I took one call at about midnight from a woman terrified because a fight had broken out in the corridor outside her room. We kept talking until the commotion had passed and she felt calm enough to try to go to sleep. It didn’t seem to me that the rough sleepers, our most vulnerable, were taken off the street to keep them safe, but rather to keep us safe from them.
In spite of all that has been going on this year, there have been some positives. Street Talk has two new patrons, filmmaker Ken Loach and Provincial of the Daughters of the Holy Spirit, Sr Anne Morris.
I saw Cathy Come Home in the ’60s, sitting alongside my Nanna. It made me so sad I’ve never been able to watch it since, but in time it provided the inspiration to set up Street Talk, so it is a beautiful thing that Ken Loach is now a patron. Sr Anne, an experienced social worker, has been a gentle, loving friend to our women and sees the infinite beauty of the human spirit in each of them.
Street Talk also won a national award from the Centre for Social Justice for work with addiction which involved filmmaker Jeremiah Quinn making a short film about Mary who had been on the street for seventeen years before she found her way to us. The film, which is only three minutes long, shows the work you have enabled us to do over the last fifteen years better than my words, and can be viewed on Street Talk’s website via the following link: youtu.be/w39_CBPppN0
Mary and her girls are not living high off the hog, they are three in a tiny, one bedroom flat, but they are safe, love each other and the cycle of children growing up without love in the state care system has been broken. It is great that Mary has made a full recovery but quite uplifting to hear about her daughter getting a certificate for full attendance at school, playing in a football team, having friends, living the life every child should have. Mary has shown us that it is never time to give up on someone. I can’t think of anything more hopeful than that and that is the joy of this work. Thank you for making it possible.
On behalf of all of us at Street Talk, the therapists, Amanda, Alison, Asta, Catriona, Christina and Rose, as well as Oliver running operations, our volunteers and trustees, I wish you a happy Christmas and a safe, peaceful New Year.