Words by Charlotte Latimer and pics by Alistair Hall
In another particularly harsh winter two years ago, Solomon Smith was working as a support worker at Lambeth Youth Centre and becoming increasingly worried about local homeless people as the cold weather marched on. He started driving around Lambeth delivering donations of clothes to people living on the streets and making up flasks of tea and coffee to give them some relief from the frost. Fast forward to the winter of 2013 – it’s still hanging on in there – and Soloman has set up ‘Brixton’s Soup Kitchen’ in Southwyck House to really tackle the problems he came across when he started with those first deliveries.
The soup kitchen provides food, hot drinks, advice and support to homeless people. It receives no official funding and Solomon has been financing the project himself since he set it up in January, relying on donations and help from volunteers. There are a small number of core volunteers who run the project and people from local colleges and the community have also been coming to help out. They work to run the kitchen and provide advice about benefits and employment – they have even helped three people into work. The community hall is always heated to make sure people have somewhere warm to go.
When he started talking to the homeless people he worked with, says Solomon, “we found that most soup kitchens were run by religious centres and people felt bad having to pretend to pray to get food. So we decided to open a soup kitchen that people, whether they are Sikh, Muslim or not religious, could come and eat at.”
Solomon, a life time resident of Southwyck House, and another volunteer, Diane Adenuga, decided to approach the Tenants and Residents Association for help and they offered to let him use the community centre for free. Since January, the soup kitchen has been open all day Monday to Friday and Solomon approximates they receive 35-40 visitors of all ages a day. The kitchen has people from all over London, from Westminster to Camden, coming in for support. The kitchen’s broad reach is down to the fact that it works with the charity Centrepoint to get in touch with homeless people and because Solomon gets up as early as two o’clock in the morning to ride around London on his motorbike flyering to let people know that the kitchen is there for them.
Homelessness is London is increasing and as government spending cuts are starting to take effect people are having to rely more and more on project’s like Solomon’s. The homelessness charity for single people, Crisis, has reported a 43% increase in people sleeping rough in London from 2010/11 to 2011/12 and the report states that while homelessness in the UK has been in decline for many years, in 2010 in began to rise. In addition Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity, has noticed an 80% increase in people calling them for homelessness advice over the last three years and they note that in the 2011 census the number of people who own their own homes was down for the first time since the original 1951 census.
“It’s crazy when you speak to people and see their experiences and how they have become homeless” said Solomon. “Some used to have successful business, but now have lost their business or their job and are homeless, many people suffer from depression because they can’t get work. It’s really opened my eyes and it’s made me realise that anyone could become homeless in a day.”
The Brixton Soup Kitchen is looking to expand and would like to provide employment support services, such as job searching and CV building. So far the Prince’s Trust have helped provide them with a banner and Diamond McFarlane, who does all the publicity for the project, is organising a summer launch to raise awareness about the project and increase support and funding, but the kitchen is always looking for more support and donations.
Solomon Smith can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07538419514