It seems hardly any time at all since I reflected back on another season of Southend Church Winter Night Shelters (CWNS) (20016-17) (see here and here). After which, despite it being an overall worthwhile undertaking that helps many, I chose not to think too much about next season, for here was an eight months break to when we start up again and, besides which, I wondered whether or not or to what extent I should be involved, because it is a mega commitment and sometimes one needs to call it a day and move on, despite recognising the need to help vulnerable folk such as the rough sleeper cohort residing in Southend remains.
Time swiftly passes and decisions and plans need to be made. Having continued working with the homeless e.g. Street Spirit (soup kitchen) and SHAN, seeing the need which in my estimation is as big if not bigger than it was last time, feeling the call, not wanting to let down eager volunteers and needy would be guests, with about enough physical and mental strength left and a supportive wife, I decided to continue. It is to our town’s credit that many folk of all beliefs and none, from all sorts of background and circumstances, with a large range of talents, help out at our shelters in order to serve the homeless. It would be great if our service was not needed, but if it did not exist many more would be sleeping rough in our streets, and we know we do make a difference. I will be managing one of seven shelters (Ferndale) that take part in the scheme and help give comprehensive cover for at least one more season.
Each year my own shelter starts from scratch e.g. zero money and no-one as yet signed up on the dotted line to help. But all that is soon to change. I have had confirmation from those taking care of the bigger picture that the CWNS scheme, which brings together the churches, HARP and the local council, are committed to doing another season. The church that hosts my particular operation (Ferndale) are happy to do so again and along similar lines as before, and many of our wonderful volunteers from last season are keen to be involved again and so are a few others who weren’t involved last time. As for our guests (up to 20 overnight and up to 30 for the evening meal) they do come from a variety of situations and backgrounds. The one thing they have in common is being homeless. The one thing we can do is to show hospitality and make some small difference. While sadly some of those who use our shelters go back onto the streets, it is heartening to hear stories of people who have used our shelter in the past, doing well.
A date for your diary is Friday 17th November 7pm when we will be having a fund raising meal to be held at Ferndale. The food will be excellent (choice of English and Indian) given my wife will be cooking. Watch this space for details. Other significant dates will be induction and training sessions (TBA). The one we encourage all volunteers to come to will be Monday 6th November 7.30 at Shoebury Baptist, which presents the big picture and basic info on what is involved. Our own shelter will begin Friday 1st December. If you let me know, I can add you to our e-distribution list. Each session will be from 7pm to 8am the following morning and will take place over 17 weeks. We operate a shift system and typically volunteers do two shifts in a month. We are keen to recruit new volunteers for a variety of tasks: cooking, setting up, clearing up, bedding, overnight, refreshments, welcoming, admin etc. I hope to hear from people interested, especially those to stay overnight. There is no particular qualification needed. The main thing is being willing, reliable, adjustable and empathetic toward our guests.
Do feel free to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to know more or are interested in volunteering. If not my shelter, maybe one of the others or other helps like driving the mini bus. Financial donations or stuff or services are also needed.
Update 10/10/2017: There have been developments since writing this. More folk have said they are prepared to volunteer, including newbies. We have had our first manager’s meeting and while there is a lot to do still the scheme overall is looking more a goer. We have already received donations, for which we are thankful.
Churches involved 2017/18 (as 2016/17) are:
Sunday: Avenue Baptist Church
Monday: Leigh Road Baptist Church
Tuesday: Shoebury Baptist Church
Wednesday: Belle Vue Baptist Church
Thursday: Westcliff Free Church
Friday: Ferndale Baptist Church
Saturday: Whittingham Methodist Church
Guests must first register with HARP to ensure admission (up to 20 bed places per night available), although Night Shelter Managers may occasionally allow self referrals.
Update 18/11/2017: Another milestone met – last night we had a fantastic fund raising meal with 60 people attending and raising £572.50 toward costs for running for the season. My attention now turns to doing the rota and being prepared to hitting the ground running 1st December – looking good but we still need overnighters.