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Overcoming the stigmas of being Black and from a South London council estate to set up homeless charity supported by Joanna Lumley

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Here in the capital, like many other cities across the world, homelessness is a major problem.

While many UK homeless charities operate seasonally, one London charity works here all year round to provide support for anyone who may need it.

Brixton Soup Kitchen is a space in South London providing the homeless and those in need with a multitude of services, not just limited to hot meals.

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Solomon Smith first set up the charity as a shelter to help the capital’s homeless over eight years ago. But he began helping others long before then.

He was inspired by his own experiences growing up on a Brixton council estate (the Moorlands Estate), seeing others struggle daily to fulfil basic needs.

The charity regularly receives donations from major brands

Growing up, Solomon felt lucky to be one of the two families out of hundreds on the estate with both a mother and father figure, “I took it for granted having a man in the house.”

The majority of his friends were living with a single mother and “if they didn’t go out and steal, they wouldn’t have food”.

So, from around the age of just eight years old, Solomon began to save the pocket money from doing house chores each week. He would then take a friend to QuickSave and buy them a family shop.

“I had that spark in my eyes from a very young age, just seeing a lot of my friends struggling.”

This desire to help people grew with Solomon as he got older. “I don’t know if it’s a Caribbean thing, but there would just be four or five people in the house and they’re cooking like there’s 30, 40 people.”

Not letting it go to waste, as a secondary school pupil at the time, he would contain the leftover food and give it to the homeless he passed on his way to school.

“I realised the problem wasn’t just in Brixton, I was realising there was poverty everywhere.”

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“This is for Brixton and beyond”

As he got older, Solomon became heavily involved in youth work in Lambeth and incorporated it into his studies at university, where he did a placement in a homeless shelter. That’s when he noticed there wasn’t one running in Brixton.

“The day I handed in my dissertation is the day I decided to put pen to paper and start a homeless charity in Brixton.

“I did not expect Brixton Soup Kitchen to blow up as much as it did.”

After spending just a month flyer-ing and spreading the word, when it opened on 1 January 2013, there was over 45 homeless people there waiting.

“That’s when I realised the service was needed and I needed to do it.”

But every day since has been a struggle, the charity is always facing the challenge of getting funding. ” If you looked into our bank account right now, you’d be like ‘Solomon, how the hell are you lot running?’”

Alongside the continuous challenge of finding the money, this passionate Londoner faces personal obstacles as he worries people don’t understand the depth of his passion.

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The charity have handed out 290,000 hot meals since 2013

“I’m a guy from a council estate, I’m Black, I’m from Brixton running a charity. Those things already don’t mix, people already have their stigmas.

“So, I can’t be 100 per cent transparent, I need to be 120 per cent transparent because I want people to know this is something I actually believe in.”

It is clear Solomon is totally passionate about this, he has dedicated his life to it.

Travelling the world to help others, from Jamaica to Miami to Toronto, he says: “I do everything to conquer world homelessness.

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“We’re helping a family not to steal”

“I was born and raised in Brixton, but this is for Brixton and beyond.”

Inspiring Solomon whole-heartedly believes if funding goes to the right places, world homeless can be defeated.

In the less than nine years the charity had been running, they have a massive list of achievements.

It’s “amazing” for Solomon when people recognise and support them; they regularly receive donations from major brands and actress Joanna Lumley even bought them a van.

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In September this year, Brixton Soup Kitchen helped over 600 families with school uniforms and supplies

Brixton Soup Kitchen welcome up to 70 people a day through their doors.

“From 2013 to today, we’ve given out 290,000 hot meals.

“We’ve got 45 people back into full-time work and 30 people back into full-time education.”

Proudly, Solomon says: “Our ethos is ‘what can we do to stop people having to use our services?'”

At the Brixton space, they offer therapy, CV skills, training, they help people get food safety certificates and even gardening workshops. Last month they ran a huge back-to-school drive, handing out school supplies to anyone who needed them. They’ve also managed to open a second site on Harrow Road.

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Ultimately, Solomon’s pride in the charity comes back to the experiences he had growing up: “The way I see it is we’re helping a family not to steal.”

Throughout his childhood, he saw his friends regularly having to steal otherwise they “wouldn’t have a school uniform”.

Brixton Soup Kitchen work tirelessly every weekday, 11am to 4pm to make a change in London “and beyond”.

Solomon says: “We’re an open door; if you’re struggling, you can come to us.”

They are based at 297-299 Coldharbour Ln, SW9 8RP. You can donate to the charity here.

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https://www.mylondon.news/news/south-london-news/overcoming-stigmas-being-from-council-21998116