So this morning I finished the eighth session (of sixteen scheduled) of the Ferndale Church Winter Night shelter, 2018/19 season (see here for background and context) and if you think I am counting how long left, my response is yes I am. It is a big deal meaning a lot of (my) life is put on hold while in session, yet is a worthwhile one.
not my shelter – but you get the idea!?
It was with some trepidation I volunteered to manage the Ferndale Shelter once again this season, mindful all sorts of wicked situations will undoubtedly arise, a good deal that needs to be done in order to ensure the show runs smoothly and a realisation of my declining powers and limitations. But I have no regrets even though I find I am ever learning and seeing ways things could be done better. What has become clear is that this season, despite of a lot more elsewhere in Southend emergency accommodation availability and many homeless people for a variety of reasons not engaging with the CWNSs, our services are still much in demand and many guests have expressed their appreciation. While what we do is a fraction of what could be done to help individual homeless people, it is something and for 12 hours we provide a safe and hospitable environment where we try to be good hosts to our guests. While technically we have not yet turned away potential guests, most nights we have been full and some more than full. While drama was to be expected, like one night when a guest tried to kill himself (and this isn’t the only incident of self-harm) and entitled and anti social behavior (sometimes accentuated by substance misuse and mental ill health) on the part of some, most nights have been quite peaceful.
Getting a full cohort of volunteers to partake in individual shifts and sessions, especially for night duty, has sometimes been a challenge, but we have always managed. It is humbling to note the dedication of our diverse volunteer cohort who go out of their way to help and who offer a vast array of skills and perspectives, united in their desire to provide a good service for our guests. While we have lost a number of volunteers from last year, we have also gained a number and have appreciated the way they have rose to the challenge. In particular, I would like to mention Julian Ware Lane, a local councilor, who volunteered the past two seasons but who has passed away in the past week. Julian is a good example of the disparate nature of our volunteers (and guests) but who led the way in winsomely engaging with all and simply trying to be helpful.
When it comes to mentioning individuals in dispatches, I would like to mention Steve Dalley, Ferndale’s new keen young minister, who lights our oven every week and does an overnight duty once a month, and assisted by members of the congregation has been much supportive of the CWNS enterprise. I should also mention my own church, Providence Baptist, who provide some of the volunteers, given us money and stuff needed to continue the operation and who have prayed for us. Regarding religion, our guests are of all faiths and none, and there is no compulsion when it comes to faith. While our ethos is Christian, after all we look upon each guest that comes through our doors as an opportunity to serve Christ Himself (even though occasionally we read the Riot Act), our focus remains on supporting our guests as best we can in what is generally a difficult time in their lives and hopefully to help bring them to a better place. While we can’t resolve many of their issues, we do give them a bed for the night, food and refreshment and above all show kindness, and taking a long term view, we do make a difference.
So that’s my report. As Jesus said, the poor we have with us always (and no doubt He could have included the homeless). The homeless need is big, huge even, and you don’t need to be a cynic to expect it not to change anytime soon. In the meantime, Ferndale CWNS intends to do its bit to help alleviate suffering and address needs etc., at least for the next eight weeks, and who knows what after that.