Heathcote Ruthven & Miranda Gold
The Crisis Diaries
There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard.
– Arundhati Roy
A festival of care in aid of the homeless has taken place in Britain each winter since the Seventies. Crisis at Christmas offers seven nights of accommodation, three cooked meals a day, medical care, dentistry, eye tests. Guests have access to showers, a cloakroom, computers, film screenings. Tailors are on hand for clothing repairs, natural therapists for massages, recovering addicts chair twelve-step meetings. Services give advice on housing, immigration, and employment. At heart it is a social occasion. For a brief time the feelings of isolation that accompany homelessness are shaken off. A ceaseless rich soundscape of chatter unfolds over cups of tea, cigarettes, and karaoke.
Christmas is a difficult time for many. At its best Crisis At Christmas is an act of community building beyond charity. A sense of reciprocity and mutual support underpins the interactions between guests and volunteers. In winter 2018 there were over 12,000 volunteers – including novelist Miranda Gold. General ‘voles’ are there in part simply to talk with guests – to chat, distract, or listen. Guests share fragments: a regret, a hope, a glimpse of the life they want to build. They explore who they are beyond their circumstances. A few understand themselves as artists: songwriters, rappers, chroniclers of the city. Others are more tentative. They feel they have a story to tell – know they do – but don’t know how to begin. How can I create when I don’t where I’ll be tomorrow? they’d say. Got back to my spot and everything was nicked, or the squat’s been boarded up, my laptop with my novel on... irretrievable. There’s no quiet, some say, no quiet, no time, no point. Many feel obviated, shut up, kept out of sight. Just to speak and to be heard is settling. To let them remember who they are – and still could be – beyond the doorway, hostel or sofa they inhabit.
The stories Miranda heard moved her to act. She wrote ‘I Am Not Who You Think I Am’ – a literature course exploring character and identity – and