Everybody somehow knows that homelessness is a problem. What many however do not really want to actively comprehend is that it has also turned into an increasingly urgent problem in many big European cities in the last years. This became shockingly evident during the COVID pandemic that has not only exacerbated the situation of already homeless people, as Deborah Ruppert outlines for homeless people in German cities, but furthermore left many people previously employed in very normal jobs with close to nothing.  The inherent task of finding solutions to that dilemma often tends to be rather assigned to anyone but the individual such as politicians or humanitarian organizations. What can a humble small contribution in the end really change? After meeting Toni, a student in London who is baking muffins for homeless people in London, I would argue, a lot.
How did the idea of baking muffins for homeless people emerge?
“Actually, this idea emerged very spontaneously during and partly because of COVID. During the first lockdown, when everything was closing down, my friends and I happened to have more time that we did not know how to spend wisely – we had been through Netflix already. We used to bake at that time, but only for our friends and ourselves. The idea of baking for homeless people however “happened” more or less accidentally. One day we were joking about us already gaining weight as we had to eat all the stuff in the oven! At the same time, a neighbour of us used to volunteer at a foodbank close by and told us that due to COVID the number of people dining there had increased tremendously. Somehow, we reflected and concluded that it would be a great idea to share our muffins with people who were hungrier than us through this foodbank.”
That is indeed a great idea. Are you also involved in delivering them? What exactly do you do when volunteering?
“Basically, we try to bake at least every second week for the foodbank at home and then help to prepare and serve them to the guest who are, due to COVID, still only served take away meals. It is like combining what we really like to do and helping others who really enjoy a little additional extra – and positivity! By actually getting in touch with the guests there, about 80 to 120 people from the most different backgrounds and including refugees, you get a totally different perspective on homelessness. The rough idea of homelessness as a result of being not ambitious or “normal“ enough, or even a criminal is definitely not true. Many guests you get in contact with have a very tragic story to tell and only a story an outsider can only partly comprehend. For example, due to COVID, many people having lost their job in an office or in production found themselves queuing up for food donations – a situation many of them never had imagined. It is sometimes shocking to see how some people ended up on the street or how quickly one can get there: through a divorce, an accident, bad luck ,or COVID, for instance.”
Many argue that “small scale volunteerism” does not sustainably help to tackle homelessness, and endorse top-down (political) approaches. What is your opinion on that as you are clearly doing the opposite?
“Why shall we only follow one approach? In my opinion, we need both. It is undeniably true that policies and social security, for instance, are effective to establish a system in which homelessness can be tackled or at best does not even exist. Having been in contact with actual homeless people, I however also strongly believe that, it is important to work with people directly and not only treat them like “social output” that can similarly to production processes alternated according to plans and agendas designed people who probably never really got in contact with homelessness themselves.
Furthermore, I also believe that small positive things often contribute more than we think and are capable of measuring in numbers. I would not argue that a small chocolate muffin can sustainably alternate the causes why homelessness exists, but it in combination with a few uplifting words and time can definitely bring positivity into a waif´s life – a person that may alternatively have chosen to stick to alcohol instead. Does that approach not also make helping humans more human? We need both.”
Many argue that they do not really have time to volunteer. What is your opinion on that?
“The argument to have no time to give back to others in whatever form is actually left on shaky ground if one considers that how we spend our time comes back to our priorities. In the end, we all have 24 hours seven days a week that we are free to spend with whatever we consider most appropriate, don´t we? If one does not find a few hours of time in a week to give back to family, friends or society through for instance volunteering though being presented with so many opportunities, it is time to reconsider. Don´t we often waste the time we could have spent on helping others in whatever context with actually rather unimportant things?”
-  Duxbury, C., (2019). Down and out in Paris, London and the rest of Europe. (online). Available at: https://www.politico.eu/article/homelessness-qa-freek-spinnewijn-down-and-out-in-paris-london-and-the-rest-of-europe/ , [access on 29Jul2021].
-  Ruppert, D., (2020). “Ich weiß oft nicht mehr, wohin“ (online). Available at: https://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2020-04/obdachlosigkeit-coronakrise-pandemie-notuebernachtung-berlin-fs, [access on 29Jul2021].