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At Home With The Homeless
Words: Polly

Photos: Homes4All, Curious Coco

“As far as I am concerned it is utterly immoral not to do everything I possibly can to provide my fellow human beings with some basic dignity and protection” – Mayor of Liverpool, 2018

I’ve had the privilege of getting to know my local homeless community in Oxford recently as part of an amazing initiative by Homes4All who sub-leased a city centre shop from Lush Cosmetics, who relocated to the new Westgate Centre. The cafe has been nothing short of transformative, with an outpouring of donations from the general public, many claiming they often passed rough sleepers by, not knowing how to help. The cafe became a hub and a home. We laughed, we ate, we played cards, we talked, we listened.

One of the many challenges faced by the homeless is lugging their few possessions around in carrier bags. This means that when it rains their vital extra layers of clothing getting sodden and cold. A ruck sack would make a huge difference and prevent precious warm clothing being stolen from doorways too, often by refuse collections who knowingly (perhaps well meaning to tidy the streets) remove them. So if you are wishing to help, look to donate weatherproof rucksacks, clothing, tents, sleeping bags, toiletries (incl sanitary products) and food via your local homeless charity ❤️

Magic really does happen when we work together.
More volunteers came to train today, more clothes came, more dog food came, more toothpaste, mugs and soup came. New men’s socks/underwear came, magazines came, pot noodles came (more please) and more homeless guests came. On behalf of all the volunteers thank you. We ask and you deliver. If you could see the joy when a guest receives a coat, boots, socks…’s the best, like a kid at Christmas.


This is what homelessness looks like – a real person beneath the cardboard, a real person behind the drugs or alcohol dependency.

This is what can be achieved with kindness. One of our cafe guests enjoying her 30th birthday treat at #ToniAndGuy today, followed by a cake with candles and wrapped gifts back at the cafe. She couldn’t remember the last time she had a ‘birthday’ ❤️ or the last time she went to a salon either. Honestly, her face during and after was priceless, especially during the head massage.

When we came out she said she felt lighter and that she looked like a ‘proper normal person’. Her whole demeanour changed, just from being shown some kindness. I can’t tell you what a privilege it was to go with her and to see her smile.

We may not be able to fix the world, but today was a little win.

Big thanks to Shabnam at Oxford Homesless Project for funding this treat.
(We have protected the identity of our guest for her privacy)

Homes4All founder and real life wonder woman, Deborah Robson-Grey, speaking on local TV

The End is Nigh
Another day and more magic happened. Several of our guests took it upon themselves to start a petition to keep the cafe open beyond January when the lease will expire. Many shops signed, the public signed, tourists signed and fellow rough sleepers signed. What #Homes4All has created is much much more than a place to get a hot drink; it’s a magical space where friendly faces greet you, new friendships are being forged and hope is in the air. Rough sleepers come and play cards, they knit, they eat, they read, they chat. We laugh (a lot), we listen and we make sure tummies are full. I’m so inspired, in awe and happy to be a part of such a brilliant initiative. Absolutely love this sketch I purchased from our guest Henry and can’t wait to get it framed. Henry is a great example of how the homeless can be helped to help themselves, now housed and earning from his talent as an artist. A true gentleman

The reality is harsh. Often the emergency safety net that should prevent rough sleeping in minus temperatures doesn’t work:

1. As per the post above from Oxford Homeless Project, there is ‘confusion’ over what it ‘cold enough’ – utter madness.
2. Guests don’t always feel safe in shelters, or (for a multitude of reasons) comfortable with having to register their personal details to be allowed in. Safe-guarding of staff and volunteers requires a register. There is the dilemma.

UPDATE – it is with huge, huge sadness that I write to confirm the cafe has now closed. I have no doubt it was a lifeline and had the potential to be life-changing, life-saving even for some.

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