Homelessness is and has been a prominent issue in our society for many centuries now, with an estimated 11,000 people sleeping rough in London alone last year.


Merton's very own Faith In Action homelessness project has been set up to try and help those without a place to stay locally offering clean clothes, internet access, advice and most importantly a hot lunch and some companionship.


I spoke to Jane Long; a volunteer at the Wimbledon drop-in centre, who cooks twice a week for the people who come to the drop in centre looking for a meal and a chat.


"So I volunteer at the Faith in Action drop in centre and it's open on Wednesdays and Fridays from 10:30 to 2:30 so anyone who's homeless or vulnerable, which is a real mixture of people, can go there," said Jane, "and they offer clothes and showers at Faith in Action, so you can get clean, get clean clothes, get rucksacks and sleeping bags all of that and come out clean, fed and dry after coming into our drop in centre."


Jane went on to say that, "Also, at the front of house, there are professionals and social workers who can help people get on the government system or with any documentation that needs to be filled in. They also offer the address of the drop in for people to use to receive mail because if you don't have an address you can't get a bank account and then you can't a job and so you can't pay your wages. So the drop-in centre also helps with that kind of thing; they are like the safety net that catches people when they need help. They help them with their next steps in life."


However, when asked if the majority of people were coming to the drop in centre to receive long term help, Jane responded, "As a drop in centre only open two days a week, all we can do is provide food and warmth and provide help for people who are in a position where they are mentally ready to get help because not everyone is and even by giving someone a bedsit, if  they are not used to or ready for it and it's very claustrophobic, it leads to new problems."


Jane's response to my query as to what her role was in the centre was, " I just help in the kitchen, cooking a lunch for the 40 odd people who turn up and then eating lunch with them too; all of the volunteers eat lunch with the visitors."


When I asked Jane whether volunteering and getting to know the people at the shelter reduces any stigma or rebukes stereotypes surrounding people sleeping rough or vulnerable people, she replied, "When you don't know the people and you see a group of homeless people, your instinct is to get out of the way and not to look them in the eye and you almost don't see them as people, I think. But of course, when they are coming in for lunch and your giving them a coffee and you start talking to people and recognising them. For example, the other day, I was walking past Tesco and they were all on the bench outside and before I might have been a bit wary of a group of men drinking beer with cans on the floor, but I recognised them all and I said hi. I think volunteering for me turns people into people."


Clearly, Faith In Action and its Wimbledon drop in centre are doing excellent work to provide aid and help those who are vulnerable and sleeping rough locally, whilst at the same time eradicating the stigma around homeless people and opening it's volunteers eyes, such as Jane's, to the people behind the stereotypes.


If you want to help Faith In Action continue with their incredible work, you can donate warm clothes, rucksacks and other essential supplies to the Wimbledon drop in centre: Salvation Army Hall, 109 Kingston Road, London SW19 1LT. Furthermore, you can also donate money to the cause via https://www.justgiving.com/faithinaction. Finally, you can also volunteer like Jane if you are 18 years and above or get your school involved with sending groups of volunteers with a teacher to help out at the drop in centre, which could make all the difference to you and those in need, sleeping rough.