“The refreshments were provided from people’s donations -- people were very, very generous -- and from local hotels, such as No 45 Park Lane at the Dorchester. We were working with the Connaught Hotel and Claridge’s, within Farm Street parish, to provide the food for the St. Patrick’s, Soho Square, service.”
The Jesuit priest said volunteers noticed that many people seeking refreshments were newly homeless.
“What we were seeing was that a lot of people who were working for hospitality agencies -- restaurants, pubs, hotels -- were losing their jobs. So it seems to be an effect of the pandemic that there is now this even more serious crisis of many people who’ve lost their jobs who’ve become destitute -- many of whom are homeless, some who are not homeless but have very little to live on -- and so need a good deal of help.”
Robinson said he had experienced “a real mixture of emotions” while serving the homeless during the lockdown.
“It’s been wonderful to see the great generosity of our volunteers. It’s great to see the Church playing such an important role of serving those who are most vulnerable at this time,” he noted.
“It also breaks your heart -- as it has done for a lot of our volunteers -- to see young men and women in their 20s and 30s who have lost jobs, who have broken relationships, who’ve lost their way in society during this dreadful crisis.”
He continued: “There was one day when we had a large queue in Trafalgar Square. Because the volunteers had built up a very good relationship with the regular guests, they were chatting quite freely, getting to know them. And a guest had asked for some rosary beads and he was being given them. Then a whole group of guests came and also asked if they could have rosary beads.”
“So you realized there was that connection being made between the Church and the Catholic faith and this charitable work. That was really quite inspiring to experience.”
As the lockdown eases, the volunteers have moved from Trafalgar Square to a new base.
“We’ve been asked to set up a service in Warwick Street at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Gregory, the ordinariate church,” Robinson said.
“There, we’re providing showers for the homeless, and some help with IT, so that people can be helped to apply for jobs, and we’re just building that up at the moment. And we’re getting a steady stream of homeless, many of whom, again, are newly homeless.”
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Robinson suggested three ways in which Catholics can help the new homeless.
“Obviously at this time, when so many people are not able to go out very much, maybe have more time on their hands, it’s to pray -- to pray for the homeless and to pray for the work which is going on for them and with them,” he said.
“It’s to raise awareness as well -- the second thing -- to find accurate information about what’s going on. Because there’s a lot of fake news around. There’s a lot of fuzzy information, but to actually find out what’s really going on with the homeless on the street and to realize that it’s a much more serious state of affairs than some people might have us to believe.”
“And the third thing would be charity. We’re looking for more volunteers at Warwick Street. But also funds. While we need to hold local authorities to account in providing funds, we also do still need funds to continue to provide these services. So it’s prayer, more information, real information, and charitable action.”
Robinson said many of the newly homeless would struggle to get off the streets and return to employment.
“We need to keep advocating for them, for this most vulnerable group of people, and we need to keep them also hopeful, I think, through our presence in looking after them,” he said.