It was back in March when we finished the Church Winter Night Shelters (CWNS) for the year. This scheme had run every day since November last year, using a different church each night of the week. My one was at St. Andrews, which I also managed. I reflected on my experience and my observations in an earlier blog. The general consensus (partners, guests and volunteers) was that CWNS was well worth doing, meeting real needs, although it was a big commitment. Again the call has gone out to run the scheme for a fourth year. Up to a week ago, five of the seven slots had been covered, but then one further one, which I will come to, although there is still need to cover the last slot in order to give full coverage (EDIT: since first posting, we have seven churches signed up and are due to operate from December to March).
Those who follow my blog will know that homelessness is something I often blog about. While I realize the last word has not been said yet, much that I wanted to say about homelessness I have done so already. Even so, the message has yet to sink in for many and it is worth plugging away, even at the risk of repeating oneself. I hear some say: why do we need another night shelter given we have an all the year round one (HARP) which earlier in the year had moved to new and better premises? Others might ask why do we bother and are we not perpetuating a problem by encouraging those who should get themselves sorted? I have tried to answer these and many other questions, but here goes again …
One of the many positive aspects of the CWNS program is while it is a temporary solution to a serious often long term problem (street homelessness), it did serve a purpose and quite a few guests did go onto find more permanent accommodation even though some did relapse, due to a variety of reasons, and found themselves back on the streets. As short a time ago as last Saturday, I was out on the streets with Street Spirit, where we fed over twenty guests, the majority of which did engage with HARP one way or another. A similar pattern occurred when I joined St. Andrews on the Sunday for their Open House. Over half of the people we served were homeless and by that I mean they slept on the streets: in shop doorways, where there is shelter, covered car parks, tents and cars.
Also during the past week, I was contacted concerning a BME lady, who was newly homeless and desperate, yet who HARP did not help with accommodation because she had no recourse to public funds. It should be said that HARP do a fantastic job yet many people still remain on the streets. While an all the year round CWNS type provision would be ideal, the winter months is where the need is greatest because of the inclement weather and limited light. As for perpetuating a problem, while some do not engage with services and are able to continue a rough sleeper lifestyle because of the generosity of those who help them, the majority desperately want a permanent roof over their heads but in one way or another are prevented from doing so.
For any church to commit to an evening each week to run a night shelter, this would be a mammoth undertaking that many who would otherwise like to help do feel unable to do. Because I felt this was something I should get involved in again and where I could help, I sought to sound out churches to find out if any could make available their building from 6.30pm in the evening and 8.30am the next day, either on a Friday or a Sunday. There were various practical reasons why this was not possible for some but one (Ferndale Baptist) agreed to let us use their church hall and offered to help in other practical ways. I anticipate that those who will eventually end up helping will come from several different churches and some no church at all.
Compassion is not dependent on dogma and my hope is that those who stay with us will have a good experience. It all means it is a “goer” and already a number have indicated they would help with some of the shifts. It is still early days although with less than two months to go we need to sort out a number of practical matters and get ourselves in a position to run a successful night shelter providing hospitality for up to 20 overnight guests. I look forward to being involved and in due course reporting on what has happened. Any offer of help will be appreciated. I am really keen to hear from potential volunteers for the 7pm – 8am slots (in my case Friday – Saturday) and can promise support and an amazing experience in this worthwhile undertaking.