Crisis at Christmas is now a large, professional and effective homelessness charity. These photographs were taken in its early days at the end of the 1970s. Many hostels closed over Christmas and so the organisers would beg the use of a disused church and, with an ad hoc group of volunteers, set up shelters to care for many hundreds of homeless people over the holiday.
At night, after dinner, everyone lent a hand to dismantle the mattress mountain stacked at the back and lay them out. The mattresses completely covered the church floor leaving barely enough room to move without treading on one of the six hundred or so sleeping figures.
The shelter was unregulated – or more accurately – it was self-regulating with volunteers cooking, cleaning and, with a very light touch, organising and peacekeeping. It was random and haphazard and it ran like clockwork. Apparently out of nowhere people came by with donations of food, sweets, games, books, clothes and to spend time chatting with random strangers down on their luck.
I had a free hand to come and go whenever I chose and to photograph whatever I wanted. I’d process and print the film when I got home and bring the people I’d photographed small pictures of themselves and their friends the next day. I'd started by giving people larger prints but these got crumpled and torn too easily so I changed to ones that would fit in a wallet. I became seen as *their* photographer so there were frequent calls of “Over here!” and “Take my picture!” - mostly when I was trying to be unobtrusive.