During the course of the night eight women approach the van. Their stories were extremely complicated and varied, but here are brief insights into the lives of five of the women I spoke to that evening:
Sarah waves her arms at us to stop. A big smile emerges as she spots Cathy, our wonderful volunteer and Bristol Drugs Project worker. She opens up to us about the pain of a lost pregnancy as she admits that she is not in the best place to bring another child into the world. She has four children already but none of them in her care. We discuss contraception and encourage her to come and see the doctor or sexual health nurse at One25. She seems tired and admits the need for support but she is also wrapped up in some complicated relationships with a couple of men residing at the same hostel as her.
Cindy is out to get some money for a drink: “I just need a drink so I can sleep tonight.” We discuss the support on offer to her to help her manage her increasing alcohol addiction. She seems grateful and says this is what she wants and needs. She makes herself eat her ham sandwiches (although she was hoping tuna would be on offer tonight!)
Tina has difficulty walking so we help her up onto the van. It is clear she is in pain and we are aware of the smell of infection. She knows that she is in a bad way and needs to urgently see a doctor. We tell her that we can assist with that and that we will contact her the next day. She is so, so, cold and we help her to pick out some gloves and a scarf.
"She knows that she is in a bad way and needs to urgently see a doctor"-
Susie asks to use our van phone to inform her partner that she is OK. Susie tries to hide her obvious disappointment as her partner is clearly not responding to her request to come and get her. She explains that her drug habit has spiralled out of control and she needs help. Cathy takes time to listen and advise as we hear about her dangerous injecting practices. She resigns herself to more hours on the lonely and dangerous streets as she dare not return to her partner until she has some money in her pocket.
Jenny tells us how relieved she is to see us as she wants to report a violent attack which happened 6 days ago. She has told nobody. For the next half an hour, I gently question, listen and write down as many details as I can in order to maximise the chances of the police finding this man. She tells us how during the attack she feared for her life. The lifestyle is clearly too much for Jenny to bear.
At 12:35, we take the van back to base. I check the team are OK and thank them for their hard work. As I drive home I thank God for my safe home, for my health and for my family. I thank God for One25.