‘For several years my sister always came out and gave out little care packages for people sleeping rough’, Ijlal explains, ‘but we had our first outreach in March and then it’s been once a month every month since’. It’s 2:30pm on what, for many visitors to the Strand, is a regular relaxed Sunday. However, for Ijlal and the busy team of Streetkind UK volunteers, they are up to eight hours into their outreach day: ‘my alarm went off at 6am! And my cousin dropped off food this morning, so she was up nice and early too’.
Streetkind UK was set up in 2019 to help homeless people on the Strand. Once a month on Sundays they set up their marquee and trestle tables laden with home-made food, hot drinks, snacks donated from businesses, and boxes of essentials from nail clippers and tissues to pants and socks.
Ijlal is one of the founding core team of Streetkind UK, along with Yeliz, Sara, and Shengül. They live in north London, but identified the Strand as the best place for their outreach. You can find them at the Strand / Southampton Street pedestrian junction.
Between outreach days they hand out fliers to people living on the streets, collect donations of clothes, toiletries and food, co-ordinate volunteers, and raise funds through their Go Fund Me to buy everything from food boxes or cutlery to rucksacks and tents.
Around the back of the marquee, volunteers and people living on the streets on and around the Strand share cups of tea, catch up, and volunteers collect requests for items to bring next time. A couple of barbers are busy cutting hair.
It’s all so organised and relaxed I comment, but Ijlal explains ‘the first outreach we did we were just snowed under, we didn’t have enough volunteers’. However, today, over 10 volunteers showed up and more people are signing up to help.
Ijlal is really happy with how Streetkind UK is growing: ‘Now we have more volunteers it is so much better, I can take the time to talk to our friends on the street. It’s really nice to see the same faces and get chatting, and sometimes they give us hugs. We stay in touch with a few of the guys and girls and speak to them quite regularly, and it’s nice to be that support that they may not have’.
I’ve also come at a quiet time of the day; it is always much busier first thing in the morning. ‘As soon as we’re set up we just don’t stop handing out food, the drinks, the sleeping bags… it’s 2:30pm now and there’s hardly any food left’. Ijlal tells me that some people come to spend the whole day drinking tea and meeting friends.
I press Ijlal to tell me what she wishes people responsible for the Strand would do to help. She explains that she wishes Streetkind UK didn’t have to exist: ‘if some of our friends on the street had accommodation then many of their problems would go’. A number of the people that Streetkind help have told them that they are not classed as ‘in need’ enough for the council to prioritise them: they don’t suffer from addiction or have serious physical or mental health needs. They’ve essentially been told that they can look after themselves. But the reality is that people become homeless for any number of complex and tangled reasons (Crisis, one of the largest homelessness charities, have a detailed report and plan here on their website if you’d like to read more).
Shoppers with bags bursting with trainers and clothes hurry past. Another volunteer, Red, keenly points out, diagonally across the road from us is the £500-plus-per-night Savoy Hotel. We talk about how this country could help everyone if the government or local authorities prioritised social care over tax cuts for the richest people or businesses, or paying people to clear away the belongings of homeless people while they go for a shower at a nearby hostel.
I ask Ijlal why the Streetkind UK team take it upon themselves to come to the Strand every month. After all, so many of us who live, work or study in the area pass by people living on the street every day, but can’t or don’t take action. Ijlal puts it simply: ‘we just want to be kind to others; we just want to help’. She explains that there’s a few different organisations now who go out on different days on the Strand, so if you are reading this and looking for a way to help there are many ways you can do so. Ijlal reflects, ‘because there’s a group of us doing it that makes it easier, we’re a group of people just trying to make a difference’.
The community that Streetkind UK have built between donors and volunteers, and with their friends living on the Strand is determined and joyful. As long as there are people sleeping rough, Streetkind UK are building a team to share what they can and spread kindness.
Support Streetkind UK by following their Facebook and Instagram pages. You can donate to their Go Fund Me here, buy items directly from their Amazon wishlist, or drop off items at their north London donation points. Streetkind UK are always looking for volunteers who can spare a few hours on their monthly Sunday outreach days, find out how via their social media pages. If you walk past their marquee on the Strand, you can also bring food or drop any spare change you can into their buckets!
Fran Allfrey is Assistant Editor of Strandlines. She has been walking and cycling the Strand for over a decade looking for the best places to eat, lamp-posts to chain a bike to, and patches of greenery.