Vision for the homeless
Discussions to form a charity to provide eye care for homeless people started back in April 2003 between Harinder Singh Paul, Elaine Styles, Kalpesh Patel, Mohan Vaithianathar and myself. We went on to form the charity in September 2003, and are currently its directors. Basically, we are contracted to the NHS, providing services to homeless people in an environment in which they feel welcome and comfortable. The initial idea came from Harinder (pictured above with a patient), who noticed the lack of eyewear and facilities to provide eye care to locals during his travels, especially in the townships in South Africa and was inspired to help. On his return to England, he discussed his ideas with a few people. Elaine runs the optician service at Crisis Open Christmas, providing eye care for homeless people. Mohan had also worked for various Vision Aid organisations providing eye care to the less fortunate overseas. I had always been keen to do work with Vision Aid Overseas but the opportunity never arose. Our objective is to be a national charity with the aim of ensuring all homeless people have access to eye care in order that their immediate visual needs can be fulfilled and also to provide a safe, friendly and comfortable environment for eye care provision. We provide eye care for all, and being on benefits is not a prerequisite. Through Elaine's connections we have teamed up with Crisis, the national homeless charity to provide eye care to people in London. We are very grateful for the consulting room provided to us by Crisis at 66 Commercial Street. We ran a very successful pilot from September 2003, seeing 62 people and dispensing 58 spectacles. It was extremely rewarding to see how grateful these people were. Our expectations were definitely exceeded. We knew that there was a great demand for the service and thus decided to provide it on a permanent basis Ð currently every Monday from 2pm through to 7.30pm. In the year since the pilot we have seen 149 people and dispensed 155 pairs of spectacles. Homeless people are very vulnerable and we have heard many stories of people who had previous spectacles stolen along with all their property, or broken when they were assaulted out on the streets. But they are also very resourceful people and I have seen some amazing repairs beyond the usual paper clips and plasters. One lady had the front of her frame tied over her ears with wool. An elderly gentleman had managed for the last three months uncorrected after losing his spectacles of +16.00D in both eyes.