Three days have passed since I nervously tapped the 'Publish' button and launched the latest First Base funding appeal. Our goal was to try and secure the cash to keep a roof over the heads of Florence and her two children. The target was £2400 and at 2pm on Sunday it seemed a very distant target. I tried to persuade myself even £50 would represent an improvement for the family. £400 would buy them another month. £2400? To be honest it looked like an Everest.
How very wrong I was.
By the time my son and his girlfriend arrived just before four o clock for the Man United v Liverpool game, the page was up to £900. Two months rent and then some.
By half time it was £1300.
By full time it was £2000
We reached the target five hours after asking the question and by the end of the evening we had gone well beyond our wildest dreams. A donation of £1000 from a local trust took us through the £4000 barrier.
Almost a year's worth of rent.
The next morning I made my accustomed early morning drive through the quiet streets of Dumfries to collect our 50 loaves of donated bread from Greggs. I unloaded and fired up my laptop to find we now had 11 months of rent in the kitty.
The phone rang once at nine and once again at quarter past as reporters from our two local papers liked the idea of giving space to such a feel good local story.
Once again social media made the jump to the traditional media.
I sent a text to Florence.
"Hi Florence. Could you and Abigail call in to see us today? We have some good news you will be pleased about. Mark"
Florence texted back and we agreed on one o clock.
The world was dismal grey as I drove up the Nith valley to Kelloholm to pick up our weekly donation of 70 packs of sliced ham from Brown Brothers. I called up Moxy from Dumfries and Galloway Refugee Action to restore her faith in human nature. She told me the boffins claim January 16th is statistically the most depressing day of the year.
Not this one
Florence and Abigail arrived at one o clock on the dot. At first they received the news with complete disbelief. I hadn't told them of our fundraising plan in advance. To have raised their hopes would have been way too cruel.
Once their disbelief turned into astonished belief, there were a lot of tears from Florence. But the right kind of tears. And it is not so very often we get the right kind of tears in First Base.
They left with beaming smiles. They left with the knowledge they were not about to be tipped out onto the cold winter streets. It was a good day for First Base. One of the best.
So where are we at now?
Well, as I write this donations on our page sit at £3200 and the Gift Aid comes to £600.
Then there was the £1000 from the local Trust.
A total of £4800
So we will be able to make sure Florence and her children have a roof over their heads for the next year. Surely that will be time enough for the Home Office to do their stuff. And if it isn't, we will have to find a way to keep helping them. This week I will have a chat with the landlord and arrange for First Base to pay the rent once a month for as long as the fund lasts: like I said, twelve months as things stand now.
I really need to say a truly massive thank you to each and every one of you who has helped to make this happen. Here is the text Florence sent to me which is also to every one of you.
What a present. Help in a time of need and trouble. On behalf of myself and my children we say a million thanks. God bless you richly and we appreciate you always for your love and concern.
So feel good about yourself. Feel very good. You deserve to.
There is an awful lot of anti immigrant hate in the air right now. We see it on the front pages of the tabloids. We hear it in the words of Trump and Farage and Le Pen. Yesterday we saw our Prime Minister more than willing to put the UK economy on the line in exchange for the chance to be harder on immigrants.
Sometimes it feels like all over the world the same kind of storm that engulfed Germany in the 1930's is beginning to gather force.
On Monday afternoon things seemed different. Our Just Giving page was a window onto a better world where very many people hold a very different view.
Sadly the feel good moment didn't last all afternoon.
The phone rang.
A worker from a support agency out west in Stranraer. She had been reading the blog about Florence. Maybe I could advise a client of hers? I said if I could, I would. Would I mind speaking with him now? Sure. Put him on.
I'll call him Ron.
Ron and his family fled Mugabe's Zimbabwe in 1993. A pretty smart play. Anyone with white skin living in Zimbabwe in 1993 didn't exactly have the longest life expectancy.
Ron was 12. His sister was 14.
They went to school and settled in whilst their dad filled in the forms. In 1997 'leave to remain' was duly granted by the Home Office.
Ron left school and started work. For his first twenty years of adulthood he worked all the time. He drew not a penny of benefits and all of his taxes were paid in full.
He was a productive citizen.
For ten years he worked in a warehouse and he would still be there today if he hadn't fallen in love.
Love meant a move up to Dumfries and Galloway so his partner could be closer to her family. They set up home in a small village way out in the countryside and things slowly but surely went pear shaped. No matter how hard he tried, Ron couldn't find a job. So they made a joint claim and got under each other's feet. They had too much time and too little money.
They argued and split and Ben found himself in homeless accommodation in Stranraer eking out his days on Jobseekers. Eventually he was given a flat to live in.
He was unemployed for long enough to be a candidate for the Work Programme. They arranged an unpaid placement. He gave the trial his all and at the end of the placement period the manager was impressed enough to offer him a job.
Maybe with a decent job he would be able to rebuild bridges with his partner?
Time for the paperwork.
Name, address, date of birth, National Insurance number, biometric ID....
Yes. We need that now. Don't worry. It won't affect the job offer. You just need to apply for it.
OK. No big problem.
So Ron completed an application form and his world suddenly fell apart.
No, he couldn't have any biometric ID. Why? Because he wasn't a citizen of the UK. When his dad had completed the paperwork back in 1997 he had cocked it up. He thought ticking the 'do you have children and if so how many?' box had been enough. It hadn't been enough. He screwed it up and was only granted 'leave to remain' for himself. Not for Ron. Not for his sister.
A can of worms had been opened.
His new boss said he could only keep the job offer open for a couple of weeks. Ron asked if he could take the job and not get paid. Just to keep it open. The manager said he would see what he could do.
The Job Centre were duly informed of his illegal status and all of his benefits were taken away. The Home Office said he would need to pay £1300 up front to fill in their forms.
And right now £1300 might as well be £130,000.
Was I able to advise him? Not as much as I would have liked. I told him I am no kind of expert. I'm learning on the job. Case by miserable case.
I explained how a lawyer was the absolute number one priority. Was he eligible for Legal Aid? He thought he was. A local solicitor was looking into it.
I told him about what Florence had told me about how proving 'deprivation' to the Home Office might mean a reduced fee. Could he prove it? He could. He has been surviving on food parcels for ten weeks and the Salvation Army are keeping his power on.
I heard some distant alarm bells.
Are the Council still paying housing benefit?
You need to be careful about that. Once they tell you in writing you are not entitled to any State Benefits they might well throw the book at you if you do.
So was the only way to keep on the right side of the Home Office to give up his flat and sleep on the street? I didn't know. You need a lawyer mate. You really need a lawyer.
I finished the call after half an hour or so and much of the feel good had drained away. Would the UK deport a penniless homeless guy to Zimbabwe? A penniless, homeless white guy?
No chance. Surely?
Instead Ron will be stuck in limboland for a while. Maybe for years. A non person. A non citizen. Like our esteemed Prime Minister has recently said
'A citizen of the world is a citizen of nowhere.'
The walls are going up and the doors are being double locked. People are being dragged from their beds at 3 am and locked up in bleak detention centres whilst the media turns a blind eye. A 52 to 48 vote is being used as an excuse to dust down a playbook from 1930's Germany which should have been incinerated long ago.
When the guns fell silent in 1945, the world took a collective breath and we knew we had to find a better way to make the world a safer place: a place where people were not dragged from their beds at three in the morning and driven through the night to detention camps. In 1948 this aspiration became a reality as countries across the continent signed off on the European Convention on Human Rights - EHCR. One man had been the driving force to make this great step forward for humanity become a reality.
The EHCR was a towering British achievement. And now all kinds of hateful people want out of it. How Winston must be rolling in his grave.
Sadly it is becoming increasingly clear 52 to 48 is being used a licence to become a nasty xenophobic country. It is ugly in the headlines. It is even uglier at street level. At First Base level.
In my bones I can feel we will be seeing more and more Florences and Rons in the coming months and years.
And as with so many things in life right now, the only glimmer of hope lies with Nicola Sturgeon finding a way to get us out of this nightmare. Any Edinburgh Government will realise the staringly obvious. Scotland's problem is the same as it has been for hundreds of years – too many people leaving and not enough people coming. If our old folk are to be looked after in the decades to come, 120% of our young people will need to become carers.
We need as many Florences as we can get and we need them in a hurry. We need to be allowed to make our own decisions about this.
We need out of Dodge.
If you want to see how the fundraising page is going follow the link below.