I was looking back at the words I wrote in this slot a year ago at this time and I’m sad to say that everything that is mentioned there about the difficult and sometimes desperate living circumstances of some of our services users is as real and present today as it was 12 months ago.
We are still supporting service users who are hungry, who are homeless, who have no income, who are experiencing severe and enduring mental health issues and who face each day with a deeply rooted stigma about living with HIV.
It is a seemingly endless battle to counter the deprivation and suffering that should simply not be present for people living with HIV in London in 2020.
It is a bleak picture with only small glimmers of hope peeping through every so often.
When we learn of these brighter moments in the team, we celebrate. We celebrate the fact that someone who has been homeless for many months is now housed, even though he has very little in the way of household items to take to his new home – at least he has a roof over his head on these cold and dark winter days.
We celebrate when someone who has been without any income at all for several months because they are appealing against a decision of the Dept for Work and Pensions to cut their benefits payments, finally gets the news that their appeal has been successful and the payment to which they are entitled will be restored.
We celebrate when a service user tells us that for the first time since they have been diagnosed with HIV they feel no shame about being HIV positive, that they have overcome the stigma they were feeling and can talk publicly about it.
Each of these moments feel like small victories for humanity.
Then on the same day that we celebrate, we will receive a new referral for someone who has recently been discharged from hospital following a suicide attempt. They have no means of cooking the food we may send right now to help them feel better, because their cooker is broken – and so our cycle of work continues. In this case we can send some food and help find a microwave oven as a stop-gap until a new cooker is in place and we can invite the person to our warm and welcoming kitchen for a hot meal and company. These are small gifts but they have a potentially life-saving impact.
So if you or anyone you know is in any doubt about the need for support services of the kind provided by The Food Chain for people living with HIV in London today, please tell them this, and let them know they can make a difference by becoming involved with us in any way they can. Donations of money and goods, signing up as a volunteer or simply spreading the word about the continuing need, and our response to it, are all important things that keep us going.
Everyone who wants to can do something to make a difference - and that is all we can do when the prevailing circumstances are so harsh and debilitating