Serving breakfast and hope for the homeless of Truro
“Go out and preach the Gospel and, if necessary, use words,” has been attributed to St Francis of Assisi but taken to heart by Ann Boorman in the most practical of ways. Ann was instrumental in setting up THAG: Truro Homeless Action Group which, for the past 22 years, has served breakfast to the homeless every single day of the year, except for Christmas and Boxing Day, when it serves Christmas lunch.
“It wasn’t just me!” stresses Ann, “And I sort of fell into it, never thinking I had what it takes to be a chairman – but there was no one else to do it!” Ann and a few friends responded to the closure of the Night Shelter in Truro, wanting to do something practical. So, initially, they began providing breakfasts on the streets before moving to different bases including the Salvation Army, the Chapel of Rest in Agar Street and finally the church hall at St John’s off Lemon Street, where they are today.
The challenges don’t always come from the homeless, but those with homes
Over the years, the response to their work has been, at times, challenging. “Most people want to help, but not when the homeless infringe on their own homes and neighbourhoods. They worry about the value of their properties and potential damage to their cars.” But as Ann can testify, homeless people aren’t interested in causing damage or being noticed even, and are, mostly, really good people.
“It’s been eye-opening for me. I’ve met former prisoners, alcoholics and drug addicts, ex-public school teachers (and pupils), business men and women – most of whom used to live lives very much like our own until something happened that de-railed them.”
“It’s been eye-opening for me. I’ve met former prisoners, alcoholics and drug addicts, ex-public school teachers (and pupils), business men and women – most of whom used to live lives very much like our own until something happened that de-railed them.” Ann spoke of Bob, a man with a good job, family, house etc until his wife died. He couldn’t cope, started drinking and eventually lost everything, ending up on the streets. Another woman, Poppy, turned up one day and was so smartly dressed Ann thought she had come to volunteer – but she was homeless. She’d been a functioning alcoholic that could no longer function and would later turn up beaten and bruised until she finally turned her life around.
“But not everyone can turn their lives around. It’s very hard, especially as so many suffer from mental health issues. They get help for a while, they recover, but then, without ongoing support, they fall back again.”
The camaraderie of the homeless
Ann says there is a great camaraderie among the homeless and that on more than one occasion they have looked out for her. “We had one chap who was under the influence of more than the tea we gave him and took great offence when prompted politely not to take things from the cupboard. We asked him to leave and it wasn’t pleasant, but I managed to hold it together until after the session.” That was when two guys approached to apologise and say they were looking out for her. “I did have a little weep then!” says Ann.
Ann says prayer has been very helpful, essential even. And so has her faith, which Ann lives out through action, “What’s life about if we can’t do our best for other people as well as ourselves?”
“What’s life about if we can’t do our best for other people as well as ourselves?”
What can we all do when encountering a homeless person?
When asked advice could Ann give to all of us when encountering a homeless person, she says, “Say hello. Ask them how they are and offer to buy a hot drink or a sandwich. And don’t judge, don’t assume you know their story.”
“.. Don’t judge, don’t assume you know their story.”
Ann bought sandwiches for Bill, it was his birthday, November 5th. He was so chuffed as they came from M&S but said this would be his last birthday. And it was, Bill died within the year. “It was so poignant, seeing him clutching his carrier bag, but the good news is his buddy, Frank, did manage to get better and now has a flat of his own.”
Ann has loved her work and met characters she would never have met ordinarily. She’s been to two weddings, a few funerals and been accepted by a community that most of us would prefer to ignore and avoid. Go out and preach the Gospel and, if necessary, use words… Ann and her fellow volunteers preached the gospel with every early morning bacon butty, cup of tea and welcoming smile.