Help wanted: Mother Teresa need not apply

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The Independent Online
Homeless charities are issuing a plea to volunteers for next Christmas - a few more cleaners and drivers, please, and a few less Mother Teresas of Soho.

Charities such as Crisis at Christmas and Centrepoint have been bombarded by people wanting to work with the homeless on Christmas Day, yet many less glamorous nightshifts and cleaning jobs are still going begging. Crisis, which has 41 shelters around the country, open around the clock from 23 to 30 December, had 800 volunteer places for its three Christmas Day shifts in London - and 1,600 applicants.

"We could have filled it twice over," said a spokeswoman. "But there's not so much demand for the more unpopular shifts. We always need people afterwards to clear up. But to feel on Christmas Day that they're helping someone has more resonance."

Charities say that the reasons given for wanting to work on Christmas Day are varied. Some volunteers can only offer then because of the pressures of work, others are desperate to escape the pressures of their own family Christmas. "This place is full of guilty middle-class people who don't want to be with their families," said one church charity worker, who asked not to be named. "It's the best excuse you can give for getting away from them."

But according to Anne Layzell, volunteer services manager at Centrepoint, the homeless charity supported by the Princess of Wales, some people get a sudden Christmas vision of themselves as "Mother Teresa of Soho".

"For the last couple of days we have had loads of calls for Christmas Day, people waltzing in and wanting to do "humanitarian" work. The best way to give is anonymously. But they want to get their little glow," she said.

Homeless charities stress that volunteering is for life, and not just Christmas. They require volunteers to commit to a number of shifts, and to go through an induction process that will ensure they don't have unrealistic expectations about recipients, who may not be as "grateful" as they would like.

"Not everyone's going to be grateful. We make it very clear. People get a handbook about what to expect so we try and avoid any of those issues," said Crisis.

Both charities recommend that those serious about volunteering for Christmas should apply early (October in the case of Crisis) and be prepared to haul blankets and sweep shelters.

"We get offers of stuff, but we don't always have anyone to run them around. We'd love people to drive, load and unload their cars. The really boring thing is to donate presents for young people," said Ms Layzell. "That might not give you the same glow on Christmas Day, but it'll do a lot more good.