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/ 13 December 2013

London churches offer hospitality and hope to homeless guests

During the 2012-2013 winter season churches across the Diocese opened their doors offering support, care and a demonstration of God’s love for over 1,400 homeless guests.

The commitment of around 6000 volunteers ensured that our guests did not have to endure the rigours of the weather and vulnerability of being out on the streets and definitely for some gave them a new lease of life, restored respect and faith both spiritually and in humanity on the whole.

It has been recognised and acknowledged that we are all two steps away from being homeless. This does not necessarily mean rough sleeping, but homeless nonetheless. With that as the back drop we must never forget that the person being spoken/written about is someone’s relative, they could be yours or mine, and with a little less luck or misfortune they could easily be you or me.

Here are some statistics and reflections on the delivery of the night shelter programme for the 2012-2013 season.

There are now church-based night shelter services in all of the boroughs across the diocesan area, so your commitment, time and efforts have been significant and tangible as you have minimised the level of devastation happening on our streets and without putting to fine a point on it saved lives. Congratulations and thank you to all of you involved in this important work.

The shelters opened across London from late October to April, the period of operation increasing all the same. Some are now considering a year-round programme and we have had some successful bids to the Church Urban Fund Mustard Seed programme for Advocacy Workers and additional support beyond the accommodation season. With the information to hand there were 6,500 volunteers who contributed an estimated 75,000 hours this would equate to roughly £750,000 in cash terms, essentially given for free.

2012-2013 facts and stats

The snapshot is:

  • 100+ churches have been engaged in the work
  • 6,500 volunteers gave 75,000 hours of service, valued at £750,000
  • 1,439 guests accessed the service
  • 44,312 bed spaces
  • The number of meals served is too many to count

There were 1,439 guests, kept from sleeping on the streets with 689 (48%) helped into some form of accommodation at the end of the term. Of the total population of guests, 33% were from Eastern or Central Europe, with 14% of all guests having no recourse to public funds. The shelters were a real lifeline and main source of support for them.

Worryingly 13% of the guests were aged 16-25. Some were offered mediation services and support and signposted to other agencies (crash pads etc). Conversely 64% were aged between 26 and 50.

The guests came with a multitude of needs, some were deemed to be ‘at risk’ and some required support with drug and alcohol issues, mental health needs and criminal justice support.

At the culmination of the service season around 870 guests were able to determine that there had been a positive outcome to this interaction, some were housed, other helped into training and work with others referred to other more specific and experienced service providers.

One guest who had escaped the tribulations of being on the streets during the cold weather commented:

"The cardboard box was my den, it was my house. It was not pleasant and some people were not nice. I just want a chance to smile and to share my thoughts with you. Thank you".

In preparation for the 2013-2014 season the Diocese once again partnered with Housing Justice and West London Mission to host a service of celebration and affirmation of the contribution of the many volunteers who gave of themselves with good grace, at times in very challenging situations and to hold in our thoughts and prayers the entirety of the homelessness agenda. We were hosted at St Martin in the Fields and a vote of thanks and appreciation must be given to the Revd Richard Carter and the team at SMIF who afforded us space, time and patience to ensure that the day went well.

The focus of this year’s activity was on the worship, fellowship and celebration; Bishop James Langstaff was there throughout. He stated that he was saddened by the fact that there was need for a night shelter movement but had a sense of comfort and gratitude that there were volunteers willing to openly show the love of Christ without need for recognition in this situation.

It was a moving time together in part because the service was also "attended" by people who would be guests at the various shelters and the testimonies from ex guests were extremely powerful.

Jake (alias), a former guest, said:

"I was in a really dark place and had lost a lot. When I stumbled on to a church I thought that it was either bad luck or that I had died. How wrong I was on both fronts. I was able to access the night shelter and the range of emotions was amazing as I met people willing to help and not judge. At the end of my season I had an epiphany and realised that I had much to give. I’m now better, I volunteer at my local shelter and recently got confirmed."

The Revd Paul Reilly of Housing Justice was moved to say:

"This work should be a celebration of the life changing work of the Community Night Shelter Movement; without it, over 1400 people’s lives would have been more miserable last winter, and some of them may not have survived to see the Spring."

Once again with the changing of the weather churches across the Diocese have opened their doors/facilities and their volunteers their hearts and minds to deliver another season of support, care and fellowship to people who have no accommodation.

Please continue to support this vital work with prayer, campaigning, resources and volunteering time.

If you would like additional information about your local night shelter project please contact Marlon Nelson who should be able to signpost you to the appropriate people/church.

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