Monday saw a new emergency night shelter provision for Southend, albeit temporary, welcoming 6 overnight homeless guests. The next day it was 17. The opening was on the day it began to snow. It came at a time when there have unsurprisingly been reports of rough sleepers dying on the streets due to the cold, elsewhere in the UK.
The homeless need in my town has been frequently referred to in my writings and in the expressions of concern by others, typically on social media, and often the Council have carried (sometimes with some justification) the brunt of the criticism for not doing enough to help. But credit where credit is due – this time the Council have led the way by making part of its Tickfield conference centre, typically used for conferences and meetings, available to accommodate homeless people from 7pm to 7am the next day.
Over the past few weeks the Church Winter Night Shelters (CWNS) have operated at maximum capacity and with the bad weather we are now experiencing the question is begged how to we help those who cannot be accommodated in CWNS and places like HARP because they are full? Thankfully Southend Borough Council (SBC) have taken the initiative and are delivering, at least for this bad weather period. While it is preferred that guests be referred by HARP, so far any who present have been given shelter.
It is a no frills service but the accommodation is comfortable and warm and there is more than enough food to go round and bathroom provision and even some clothing items to give out. My two visits thus far have led me impressed and touched. Impressed, given it all came about at very short notice and a number of SBC officers, supported by some of the councillors, have gone out of their way to make it happen. Touched because SBC have been able to partner with the voluntary and community sector (VCS), including CWNS and the various soup kitchens, to provide a service. Other than paid security staff, all those assisting are volunteers. And the guests (several I know) have appreciated it.
It is unlikely this shelter will continue much beyond the end of the cold period we are currently experiencing, and the plethora of unaddressed homeless needs will still be evident when this shelter and also CWNS finishes later in March. But at least it is a start and we have seen what can be achieved where there is a will.