I write this from my perspective as a homeless activist and being one of the managers involved with the Southend Church Winter Night Shelter (CWNS) program for 2018/19, which begins Monday 3rd December and goes on every night for 16 weeks.
This will be my fourth season managing the Friday night shelter hosted by Ferndale Baptist Church. Prior to that, I managed a season at St. Andrew CofE. As a community activist with many assorted interests, I have found one of my principle focuses in recent years to be homelessness. I chair Street Spirit (a sort of soup kitchen) and Southend Homeless Action Network (SHAN) that does what is written on the tin and I try to engage with homeless folk.
While there will be changes from last season these are relatively minor, taking into account changing circumstances and seeking to improve on existing practice. More widely, there continues to be more activity when it comes to homeless prevention and alleviation, e.g. the Council getting extra money from central government to tackle homelessness, new soup kitchens operating and a recently started up all the year round night shelter (Off the Streets), but the unmet need remains and, indeed, it has increased.
Two of last year’s host churches have decided NOT to continue and a third (Westcliff Free Church) looks iffy as they don’t have someone suitable to manage the operation (WFC are the last remaining church there at the start, 7 years ago). We appreciate and welcome two new churches that have stood in the breach: Sacred Heart (Roman Catholic) and 57 West (Baptist with a twist). In terms of who operates when, it now looks like:
Sunday: 57 West & Clarence Road Baptist
Monday: Leigh Road Baptist
Tuesday: Shoebury Baptist
Wednesday: Sacred Heart RC
Thursday: Westcliff Free or other or neither
Friday: Ferndale Baptist
Saturday: Whittingham Methodist
As for my own operation, I was disappointed that the kitchen / toilet etc refurbishment that we hoped would have taken place, between us finishing March 2018 and starting up again in December, won’t happen before the March 2019 at the earliest. Sadly, due to circumstances we had to cancel our fund raising meal (scheduled for today), although we have received some generous donations, which will enable us to buy stuff, like sleeping gear. We have also lost some excellent volunteers, including my two deputy managers (all for good reasons) but, on the positive side, a few new people have indicated they would like to volunteer for this season and the new minister at the church is really up for this! While hitherto the folk at the church haven’t helped much at the shelter as such, they have been great in providing all sorts of practical help. My cohort of volunteers is from different churches and none at all. Ferndale, like all the CWNSs, works closely with the Council and HARP, but is independent. It serves those of all faiths and none, maintains strict health and safety protocols and has a Christian ethos.
For wannabe and existing volunteers, if you are on my Ferndale e-distribution list, an email will be wending your way and at regular intervals thereafter concerning what is happening and what happens next. I will be sending out a volunteer application pack, which includes a form to complete and return concerning your details and availability (needed for doing rotas), in the next day (let me know if you want to be on/off that list). If you are interested in the CWNS program but not Ferndale, I am happy to act as a point of contact: answering your question if I know the answer or passing you onto someone who does. This date is important: Monday 19th November 7 – 9.30 pm will be volunteer training evening at Shoebury Baptist church, providing vital information as to what is involved and things worth knowing.
While I face each new season with trepidation, especially with waning physical powers, I look forward to being involved in the program. I know it makes a difference to the lives of many. While we do see life in the raw, including as a result of the issues our guests experience e.g. mental health and addiction, and learn to expect the unexpected, I have met many wonderful people (volunteers and guests) and it is a privilege to be once again involved.
Ferndale CWNS manager