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Ace of Clubs - The Poor and Homeless of London

Speaking at a local church, Sarah Miles speaks of the Ace of Clubs in Clapham, London.

She is currently working as centre manager, welfare worker and fundraiser.

In the photo below, you see the members of Ace of Clubs receiving a gift of clothes.

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"Ace of Clubs, as many of you may well know, is about 10 minutes walk away from Holy Spirit, in the old St Mary’s primary school on St Alphonsus Road.  It was started 15 years ago by members of the Redemptorist Order based in the monastery next to St Mary’s.   The story goes that they were starting to get a little tired of the number of people knocking on the monastery door seeking food, and that as the old St Mary’s school was empty they decided to open it as a permanent centre providing hot food and drinks every day from 8am to 7pm.  St Alphonsus founded the Redemptorists with the specific mission of preaching the word of God to the poor, but all of us as Christians know that we should love one another as God loves us and this really is the basis on which the Redemptorists founded Ace of Clubs, that all people are equal and equally deserving of God’s gifts.

 

The bigger question is how do we continue to support and practice our social duty.  For me, having been brought up in a vicarage where we had a specific set of extra large mugs, teabags and sugar in the kitchen for the “gentlemen of the road”, I have always been aware of the needs of those who come knocking, but I know and understand that for many people, dealing with homeless people is not so easy.

 

Ace of Clubs continues today in the same vein as it was established – if you come knocking on the door we will always do our best to help you.  There are more than 2500 members of Ace of Clubs and some 40 or so of these come to the centre on a regular, often daily, basis.

 

One rough sleeper wrote this:

My homelessness happened when the builder I was working for informed me that he had no more work for me.  I applied for housing benefit but was refused because of an administrative error and was evicted from my bedsit after not being able to pay any rent for several months. After spending some time on a friend’s sofa I ended up sleeping in parks and on the streets.  Another homeless guy told me about the Ace of Clubs and when I turned up there one day I was immediately struck by how I was treated by people there. I was given help, advice, food and clothes and generally made to feel like there was hope and I would not be in this situation forever.  I do not take heroin, I do not take crack cocaine, I am teetotal and it was nice for me that the people at the club took that at face value and believed me. Most people in my experience look at a homeless guy in his twenties and assume that he is a drunk or a drug addict.  They assume he is probably a criminal, possibly violent and almost certainly deserves to be where he is on some level.  In actual fact I am an ex-user of heroin and cocaine and alcohol. Ironically this was when I had a home and a steady job.  One of my greatest concerns about being homeless is that I would start using again and ruin all the good work I had done getting clean and sober.  My life is coming together now. With Sarah’s help I have a room in a hostel. Every night I sleep in a warm place in my own room after eating a good hot meal. I can rest easy knowing that I will not be attacked in my sleep. Next week I start a new job and can start saving for the deposit on a flat.  I have started writing my personal statement so that I can apply to university and pursue my dream of being a medicine researcher.  Without the Ace of Clubs I would still be on Clapham Common.  The people who work and volunteer there are providing a vital service, not only to help people like myself dig themselves out of a hole they are in through no fault of their own, but to people who are and always will be vulnerable and need ongoing support.

 

One of our members asked me the other day why Ace of Clubs was so much more helpful than another day centre he’d been into.  Many day centres receive government and/or statutory funding which requires them to have sessions that deal only with specific types of people, ie. Women street workers, rough sleepers only, drinkers and drug users etc, whereas at Ace of Clubs we receive no government or statutory funding and are therefore not bound by any such requirements. We are simply open to everyone every day and as long as you abide by the very few straightforward rules of the centre (no alcohol, drugs, rude or aggressive behaviour) you will always be welcome at the centre and always be able to access the services on offer.  We receive the majority of our funding from the local community – from church collections, being the beneficiaries of local fairs and simply from members of the public and our charity shops; we apply to small trusts and foundations throughout the year and somehow we always seem to find the money to keep us going.

 

Ace of Clubs is very much a community organisation – well supported and well loved by lots of people who know us.  In answer to the question, what can I do to help, I would ask you to continue your generous support in giving to the CHS Christmas appeal.   We are currently raising funds for our heating system that has broken down making the centre a very cold place to work!; but we believe that it is better to provide an open cold shelter rather than no shelter at all.  And throughout the year, if you are ever having a clear out of your wardrobe, or find you have unwanted blankets or sleeping bags, or old bicycles, then please remember us.

 

I hope that by explaining a little of what goes on in the centre your own personal perception of homelessness may have been changed and if it has, then I would urge you to spread the word and to pray for all those who use our services and I would invite you to come and visit the centre when we are open to see what goes on or come along to our Open Day on Saturday 4 December.  It really is through knowing that we develop our understanding.

 

To me, Ace of Clubs can be summed up in the Sydney Carter hymn,

 

“When I needed a neighbour were you there, were you there?  And the creed and the colour and the race won’t matter, I’ll be there.” "

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