Army of good samaritans bring joy to Hackney’s homeless on New Years Eve
- Credit: photo: Arnaud Stephenson
Most people will have celebrated New Year’s Eve with house parties, clubbing nights, a meal at a fancy restaurant or cocktails at bars.
But Andrew Faris saw in 2015 by pounding the cold streets, handing out New Year gift bags to those sleeping rough as part of his work as the founder of Rhythms of Life, a charity that has supported the homeless in Hackney since 2008.
Contained within the gift bags will be basic toiletries including toothbrushes and shower gel as well as some chocolate treats – all for less than the price of a pint, and far below the average spend of about £300 for the UK’s average New Year’s Eve out.
The 53-year-old, known to everyone as Faris, said: “On New Year’s Eve, when the world shuts the door to the homeless, I will be driving across London to give out some treats and wishing everyone that their hopes for the new year might come true.”
And he does not stop there. On New Year’s Day, he will be opening the charity’s Community Cafe on Matthias Road, Dalston, from 9.30am to serve a New Year’s Day breakfast.
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The Community Cafe officially launched in July and is open 365 days a year to provide hot food and a friendly chat to more vulnerable members of society.
On Christmas Day and Boxing Day the cafe was open from 8.30am to 10.30pm serving hot food, snacks and hot drinks.
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Rhythms of Life is run by volunteers and relies entirely on donations for its running costs, with the John Lewis Community Matters scheme and the National Association of Catering in the Community helping to contribute this year.
And supermarket waste is gold dust. Earlier in the year, Tesco generated nearly 30,000 tonnes of food waste at its stores in just six months.
So Mr Faris can put food on the table for those homeless he calls “family”, he hires a van and goes to the big supermarkets most evenings to pick up food that would otherwise be thrown away. He is able to provide hearty meals including vegetable curries, and his personal favourite, chicken and chips.
To date, Rhythms of Life has served more than 102,000 hot meals and 204,000 sandwiches.
Mr Faris’s urgency to help the homeless comes from his own past.
Before becoming homeless himself, he had a degree in business from Greenwich University and ran a successful commercial estate company. Remembering his “impatience to have that bigger and better office or next big thing” he said that the business soon crashed, resulting in him living on the streets.
Sleeping in his “favourite spot behind the Savoy hotel”, Mr Faris was often subject to unpleasant treatment – including drunken women on a hen night who tied his shoelaces together and set them on fire while he slept.
Today he provides the welcoming and sociable environment that he never had for the homeless and the vulnerable. While they eat, cafe users are able to listen to music of their choice and watch films.
This year, the charity collected a range of winter coats to give to its users thanks to the donations of generous companies.
One user, John, 58, who lives on his own in Dalston, described it as “a lovely place to come, where I can make new friends.”
John previously worked as a furniture preparer for 40 years, before being made redundant 12 years ago, and currently lives on disability benefits due to depression.
He said: “I’m a bit shy, but I’d really like to find some people who might like to play snooker with me. Also, it might be nice to find myself a girlfriend.”
Mr Faris added: “I want every day to be a Christmas day for my new family at the Community Cafe.”
The Community Cafe continues to ask for donations and volunteers, especially those who can drive. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.