Wild Goose Cafe in St Paul's is our lifeline
SOON before 11am a queue has formed outside the Wild Goose Cafe in City Road, St Paul's.
Inside, a team of full-time staff and volunteers at Crisis Centre Ministries are preparing a cooked breakfast of eggs, bacon, beans and black pudding.
Two meals are served here every day of the week.
The only cost is three pence for a knife and fork, as staff found that too many were going missing.
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Among the team hard at work in the kitchen is a former homeless teenager doing some much-needed washing up alongside deputy manager of Crisis Ministries Lisa Mannion.
Lisa described the Wild Goose Cafe as like one big family.
"You really grow to care about the people that come here," said the former bricklayer, who began as a volunteer before joining the six full-time staff.
"I always feel so alive here. It's completely changed me. The people are so honest, most of them have lived very hard lives and there's so little help for them out there, but they are all amazing."
Anyone can come to the cafe and eat the food for free, much of which has been provided by Fareshare, a Bristol charity that redistributes quality surplus food from the food and drink industry.
Last week Crisis Centre Ministries drop-in manager Alan Goddard received a delivery of caviar which he had to turn into fish pies because the regulars would not touch it.
Alan said that while a lot of people may turn a blind eye to the problem of homelessness in Bristol, there are many caring people who do not.
From today until December 30, the Wild Goose Cafe is closed, and in its place is Caring at Christmas, a charity that runs an emergency shelter over the Christmas week for people who are homeless or "vulnerably housed" in Bristol.
Alan and his team provide meals throughout the year for an average of 300 people a day.
One person who visits twice a day is Roger Cole, 51, who is living in a squat in St Paul's.
He used to own the One Planet health food shop in Picton Street, Montpelier, before a serious bicycle accident saw him fall on hard times.
"I'm absolutely dependent on this place," says Roger, who moved to Bristol from London in 1998.
"I am homeless and this is a lifeline for the homeless in St Paul's and Stokes Croft.
"The staff and volunteers here do an absolutely fantastic job and I can't thank them enough.
"They truly are wonderful."
But he added: "Despite what the official statistics say, it's obvious that homelessness is a massive problem in Bristol and something needs to be done."
Sitting near Roger is another regular visitor, Michael Watkins, 26, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict living in the Jamaica Street hostel in Stokes Croft.
Michael began living on the streets after he was released from prison. He says: "It means a lot to me this place. It helps us out so much. Everyone needs a hot meal inside their belly to keep them warm, especially this time of year.
"This is a fantastic place. The staff and volunteers here are as good as gold and they give me a great chance to get my life back on track."
A "sleep-out" to raise money for Crisis Centre Ministries takes place at St Philip and St Jacob Church, known as Pip 'n Jay's, on Tower Hill just off Temple Way on Friday, February 27. For more information, telephone 942 3088.