The founder of a charity has thanked West Midlands Police for their support in feeding the UK’s second city homeless community.
Thousands of tasty sandwiches, fresh fruits, high protein yoghurts and some sweet treats were handed over to Birmingham Homeless Outreach (BHO) last week with more set to follow in the coming months, at the start of what’s set to be a long-term collaboration.
The food – worth thousands of pounds – was being served up to officers taking part in the 24 hour security operation for the Conservative party conference at the International Convention Centre. All had been paid for by the party.
A disused bank on Broad Street was turned into a rest centre for cops and security guards who were protecting the site and the city.
At the end of each day, anything which had not been eaten was passed to charity workers who would then serve dozens of homeless people as part of their daily food service.
Rik James, who founded of the group in 2010, welcomed the valuable addition which meant more people could be fed.
“This donation means a lot,” said Rik.
“We’re out here every day of the year feeding homeless people. We already have five local bakers giving us food which hasn’t been bought, but we can now feed even more thanks to the police.”
The 52-year-old, originally from Bootle in Merseyside, lived rough on the streets of Liverpool for three years before a man told him to “dust himself down and get back up”. He then moved to Manchester for 14 years before coming to Birmingham to set up BHO.
“I formed the charity in 2010. I knew how hard it was to find organisations that would feed me. I was a really successful businessman before I lost everything and made homeless. And suddenly, there I was being treated like the scum of the earth.
“So when I came to Birmingham to be closer to family I formed one of the first outreach teams in the city.
Rik and his charity also supports the estimated 1,500 homeless people in Birmingham to find accommodation and work.
The unique arrangement between West Midlands Police and BHO was the brainchild of Keiron Ronan who oversees the logistics of feeding officers on all major operations. He wanted to see food which otherwise be wasted put to better use and set about finding a local worthy cause.
“I mentioned to my mum what I wanted to do and she just so happened to go to church with one of BHO’s workers,” said Keiron.
“I met with Rik and his team and did a couple of shifts with them feeding Birmingham’s homeless population. They do remarkable things and I knew we could make a real difference with donations like this. This was the first time we’ve handed over unused food but we’ll be doing it for every future operation where catering is provided.”
In addition to food, the force is now looking at other ways to support the Hockley based charity.
West Midlands Police chaplain, Reverend John Butcher will hold talks with Rik to see how his church, also based in Hockley, can provide more meaningful long-term support.
Rev Butcher said: “Supporting people in need is the cornerstone of all faiths. It’s also the foundation upon which British policing is built. In fact West Midlands Police’s motto is ’preventing crime, protecting the public and helping those in need.’
“I look forward to establishing what more the force and my congregation can do to help BHO.”
In the last 18 months BHO have arranged accommodation for 180 homeless people.
“Everyone falls on hard times, everyone has the chance of falling into homelessness,” said Rik.
“Being homeless is a lonely existence. When it is all dark and quiet you don’t know if you will ever see the sun come up again.
“If you see a homeless person give them five minutes of your time and buy them a coffee, give them a cigarette have a chat with them, this means more to people than you think.”
West Midlands Police has a long history of working with groups supporting and representing homeless people including Big Issue and Sifa Fireside.
Last year a West Midlands PC was awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) in the Queen’s New Year Honours for his work with homeless people. Ian Northcott (now retired) set up the Socks and Chocs charity in 2010 to distribute sleeping bags, gloves, socks and chocolate treats – all things those he helped said they missed and made them “feel good again.”