Changing perceptions of street homelessness
By Karin Lock
Every night the c86erz Street Team go out looking for London’s homeless to give them food, clothing, toiletries, and a smile.
The initiative is the brainchild of 34-year-old Verral Paul-Walcott, a local graphic designer and keen cyclist. Whilst preparing for Christmas 2020, he wanted to do more to help those most in need. The ‘Homeless Ride Out’ was born.
Verral said: “In two days, we were ready to go. I messaged my WhatsApp group asking for a cargo bike. We got three cargo bikes, 38 riders, and fed 150 people in eight hours on that first night.”
Born and raised in Tottenham, Verral set up c86erz, a mountain-bike street wear brand, in 2017. The cycling group evolved from a desire to get fit, connect with others and explore the city during the first lockdown. Having gained 168 members in ten months, the group now works together supporting the campaign, underpinned by its social media presence.
The Covid-19 lockdowns are devastating for rough sleepers as public footfall – offering friendly chats, a sandwich or cup of tea – has reduced to a trickle. Part of the c86erz campaign is to give street sleepers a voice whilst changing public perceptions about the issue.
Verral says: “I want to change mindsets. By sharing their stories anonymously, I can show it is not just those with alcohol or drug problems on the street. I have learned not to put a label on the vulnerable.”
The ride-outs can be viewed on Facebook Live and YouTube channel Big V on a Bike. A Facebook page informs different locales in advance, enabling local supporters to pinpoint beneficiaries, bring donations and help with distribution. In one month, c86erz contacted 247 homeless people across Haringey, Camden, Hackney, Islington, Waltham Forest and Enfield.
As homelessness increases, and food banks are inundated, organic mutual aid groups are responding rapidly at grassroots level. c86erz’s charitable mission shows what is achievable collaboratively in a very short space of time.
To build his campaign, Verral launched an online Just Giving page raising £2,740 in three weeks. Public contributions include jackets, jumpers, hats, gloves, scarves, tents and sleeping bags. Local providers the Selby Food Hub have gifted further supplies.
However, c86erz is neither food bank nor delivery service. The approach is solution focused and personalised, based on need. Verral recalls one person crying upon receiving a pair of gloves; another requested colouring pencils to make drawings to sell. He now knows many by name as well as their pizza preference!
The movement’s success comes from networking, strategic planning and kindness. News of c86erz has travelled and requests for help come from Manchester, Liverpool and Colchester. To extend his reach, Verral has designed waterproof ‘give back’ packs containing 14 essential items.
Future plans include national distribution of 3000 packs and creating a Kids Space locally to involve more young people in cycling.
Verral’s own experiences of managing his mental health drives him on: “We need to give back to the community. I have suffered from anxiety and learned coping mechanisms, but not everyone can get through this.
YouTube BIG V ON A BIKE
Just Giving c86erz Homeless Ride Out
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