The UK’s homeless people are struggling to function with prescriptions of up to
-16.00 dioptres. This is just one of the shocking findings of volunteer optometrists at Vision Care for Homeless People, operating from London’s Crisis Centre.
Optometrists and dispensing opticians are urgently required by the charity to work within the London and Snow Hill, Birmingham, Centres.
“Some professionals are put off from volunteering because they don’t know who they’ll meet. In reality 98% of those who come to us for help are not rough sleepers, but marginalised people who live in hostels and safe houses: they just do not feel comfortable about going into a High Street Opticians,” said Harinder Paul, who set up the charity six years ago.
Housed within The Crisis Centre, near London’s Liverpool Street Station in a converted Victorian textile warehouse, the complete optician’s practice is kitted out with equipment donated by many UK companies.
“Suppliers have been so generous: it was always my aim to provide a comprehensive optician’s practice, but within an approachable environment for homeless people. So far we have seen more than 3,000 patients,” added Paul.
A second London practice operates in Victoria and the Birmingham Centre is located within the Salvation Army’s William Booth Centre, in Snow Hill.
“All of the volunteers who work with us come for a session just once a month and they find it tremendously rewarding. The service is greatly valued and it is a terrible shame when we are not able to open up the practice because of a lack of volunteers.”
Since opening in 2003 Vision Care for Homeless has picked up a number of serious pathologies and helped thousands to regain their self respect. One of the aims, mirroring that of Crisis, is to help people to get back to work.
“A lot of people need help to be able to read a job application form before they can get started, and even providing ready readers is a solution for many. Our patients are so grateful for what we do. They do not feel part of society but within our centres they feel safe. We are always particularly busy during the ten day Christmas period when many homeless people feel very abandoned.”