Today I ticked off another season completed for the Church Winter Night Shelter I manage (Ferndale). And it is with mixed feelings I write. It is sad to reflect that next week a number of guests will be back on the streets, although for a larger number they are now off the streets and staying somewhere better, partly because of the help we were able to give. This is now my sixth season managing shelters and it could be my last (age, weariness and infirmity are catching up). But whether I continue or not the need will likely long remain.
There have been some awkward moments, like when we had to deal with a failed suicide attempt and on the first and last sessions we had to call the police when two misbehaving wanabe guests refused to leave. But then, compared with last year, there has been far less drama. And there have been many more good moments, even realizing many of our guests have harrowing stories to tell and all of them face the distress of being homeless and uncertain prospects. But we are where we are and we do what we do. While giving guests food, shelter and hospitality for twelve hours amounts to a fraction of what they need, it is at least something and time and time again we have been made to realize we indeed make a difference.
Like all seven churches working in the CWNS program, that operates every night over a sixteen week period in the coldest months of the year, we try to give guests a great experience in a safe setting. But this is not a time to rest on one’s laurels. Despite many inroads being made in tackling homelessness, and more emergency accommodation being made available, all shelters have been full and over full most nights. The need for more support to help get the folk we deal with to a better place remains, and more affordable, suitable accommodation. Pertinent to my shelter is when they leave us by 8am guests have 11 hours to kill on a Saturday before the next shelter and there really is a lack of meaningful things to do.
For me, the highlight is meeting so many wonderful people (guests and volunteers). It is humbling to reflect that despite difficulties being faced how well many of the guests do cope (although substance misuse ever entices). As for the volunteers, these are from all walks of life and sacrifice much to help out, and without remuneration other than a satisfaction of doing something needed to make a difference. Many are Christian; some aren’t. Many ideological outlooks can be found but our disparate band work well together sharing a common purpose – to help the homeless.