Six months ago I wrote a blog post “Night Shelter time again”, when I looked forward to the forthcoming Church Winter Night Shelters (CWNS) program and the preparation that was needed. Earlier this morning I returned from the CWNS I have been managing for the past 17 weeks. We were the last shelter to finish and during that period, except for four nights, every night was covered and we were able to offer food, hospitality and overnight accommodation to up to 20 guests each night. While there are still a few loose ends to tie up we are finished for another eight months. Besides feeling tired, my first reaction was relief it is all over, a burden albeit agreeable one has been lifted and nothing outlandish or seriously awry has happened. No doubt in the weeks to come there will be other reactions and then to look forward to next season regarding whether or not we continue the program, what changes we will make and what we do in the interim, mindful that the majority of the guests we waved fond good byes to a couple of hours ago will be consigned to living rough on the streets with no clear remedy in sight.
When I looked forward six months ago to the part of the program I was to take responsibility for, it was without an agreed and fit for purpose premises, most of the bits and bobs needed we didn’t have, and we had no team and no money. We were effectively a brand new shelter starting up from scratch. But marvelously all this and more came together, and all sorts of people to their credit played a part making this come about. The team that was assembled came from all over the place – many different churches and some no church at all and all sorts of backgrounds, experiences, maturities, outlooks, commitments and gifts but blending together well such that we could best serve our guests. Most sessions were fairly peaceful although rarely incident free, with the occasional guest ‘kicking off’, often as a consequence of peoples’ issues, sometimes fueled by alcohol or drugs (including legal highs).
Most who came to us appreciated what we were able to offer. Anecdotal evidence is we did make a difference. Frustratingly, while we could offer a hospitality service we were not best placed to meet our guests’ rest of life issues, headed by the need for suitable accommodation and the issues that prevent them from moving forward with their lives, and in this respect we relied a lot on our partners. Regarding the many multi-faceted homeless issues, I refer folk to the list of my blog entries where many have been discussed. I am under no illusion there is a lot of work that still needs doing but we have made a start and we have made a difference and there is now a cohort of volunteers out there who know a lot more than they did a short while ago and are keen to continue the good work.