One of my community “activities” is to manage a Church Winter Night Shelter (CWNS). I have earlier reflected on this matter (most recently here and here) as well as more widely concerning issues around homelessness, which the CWNS scheme was meant to help address. I use the term advisedly because I have often thought what we do is a drop in the ocean toward addressing homeless needs, but that would be false modesty given we do what we do because we believe we can, and evidence, including guest feedback, shows this to have been the case, and we do make an appreciable difference.
While my own shelter finished its last of seventeen “signed up for” sessions a week ago, the very last session in the overall CWNS scheme was during the past week. By invitation, I went along to what was likely to be a bitter sweet occasion. Sweet because of what had been achieved and that those involved in rolling out CWNS had successfully negotiated yet another season and done some good; bitter because the harsh reality was, for some guests at that last session, they will be spending the following night on the streets.
Visiting that shelter, turned out to be a pleasant occasion, even though it was sad from the perspective there is a lot of unfinished business. It was nice to go along not having to do anything other than eat the food (which was delicious) and talk to the volunteers and guests, something I do not do enough of when I am involved at my own shelter. Even as I turned up to the door, I met someone who had been a guest at the shelters last year. He recounted how his life had been turned around and this would not have been possible if the help CWNSs provided had not been around, and then expressed profound gratitude, which I found humbling. Several other conversations followed with guests I had got to know over the season. Gratitude was a common factor, although some raised important concerns I could only empathize with but could not allay.
It got me thinking: where do we go now CWNS is over for another season and the needs still remain? Our combined operation was and could in the circumstances only be a holding one that provides some respite and fills in certain gaps. I rather reacted when someone made the point on social media: why did the CWNS not continue throughout the year? My response was that for many holding key positions in the overall program, their lives had been put on hold these past 17 weeks and given the often not realized scale of the operation, this was as the maximum level of intensity that could be reasonably maintained and any more would lead to the burn out of the well meaning folk that were involved.
As for me, while I will take some time to get my life back, I will want in any way I can to be around to help where it is in my power to do so. For example, I am involved in a “soup kitchen” that operates every Saturday night, and I made it clear to the guests I will be there if any wanted to talk to me. I am all too aware that the two biggies: accommodation and support, are matters I could at best only touch on and point in the right direction. Besides the guests that presented themselves that last night, there are many others, for all sorts of reasons (like not engaging with the process or not suited to what CWNS had to offer) that will be sleeping in the streets of my town.
There is as there generally always is hope and one is the number of compassionate people wanting to help. I recognize there is much that goes on I have little control over but also people do things that benefit those in needs with little or no reference to what I do – and I rejoice in that fact. One does what one can do. With my particular interest, calling, insights, experience etc. I will encourage all and sundry to do just that, for the need CWNS helps to address, remains. As for CWNS and next season, watch this space.