On Thursday 17th January, local charity St Petrock’s gave a talk to #TeamBigwave on homelessness in Exeter as a thanks for our Christmas donation. Oddly enough, it was the busiest morning on record that the charity had experienced, and this hammered home just how big of a job this small charity has.
St Petrock’s is an independent charity that feeds, clothes and houses rough sleepers across Exeter. On the day of speaker Gill Luckings presentation, a whopping 83 people had passed through St Petrock’s doors looking for food and shelter. “That”, explained Gill, “gives just some indication of the scale of homelessness in Exeter.”
We were shocked to hear that in any given year, more than 600 people will be living on the streets of Exeter. In 2017, it was ranked the third highest English city for the ratio of rough sleeping to population size.
These statistics were particularly hard to digest for those of us that call Exeter home – a city that is locally famous for its overwhelming sense of hospitality. It was a bittersweet feeling to realise just how anaesthetised we’d become to our own sense of comfort and security.
“It can be a surprise to learn that Exeter is the tenth least affordable city in the UK and with Housing Benefit, that helps pay for 1, 2 and 3 bed property, now 15% – 25% lower than the average local rent it’s easy to understand why people can struggle keeping a roof over their heads,” continued Gill.
Of course, we were no strangers to the very visible issue of homelessness in Exeter. It was part of the reason we scrapped Secret Santa in favour of raising £100 for St Petrock’s. Every Bigwave employee chipped in to the fund, which helped towards Christmas dinners and bedding.
However, it’s not just donations that can make a difference to the lives of homeless people, we learned. There are small efforts we can make on a day-to-day basis to improve the everyday lives of people on the street. Bigwave media’s PPC Manager, Gemma Ross, who was at the talk, explained how she has since made more of an effort to help the homeless community feel less rejected by the general public.
“I’ve never been indifferent to the plight of rough sleeping, but I will certainly be making more of an effort to help how I can. Gill described how even a smile and a wave can make people’s day. Often it’s easier to avoid this out of guilt but I’ve since made a conscious effort to make homeless people feel less invisible.”
The consensus has been similar across the office. Recognition is something we take for granted and a smile is so easy to give.