This is what I presented at the CWNS managers meeting that took place Thursday …
Ferndale, which has now been running 4 years, taking over from the Brethren in Christ, differs from the other CWNS’s in one significant aspect – we are not run by the church, and the church itself, which comprises mainly elderly members, did not provide volunteers. Even so, the church plays a key role in the smooth running of the shelter and has supported what we do and acceded to any request. This year, its new minister, Steve Dalley, has volunteered every week to light the temperamental oven and once a month to lead the overnight shift. This may change next year, with the church taking on a more proactive role and some of the hoped for refurbishments having taken place, so watch this space.
Prior to our starting the season, we lost some of our stalwart volunteers, and were short, especially when compared with other shelters. We did often struggle to get adequate cover, especially at night, but we always managed. We also started with no deputy manager, although people did step forward when needed to take particular responsibilities. We were particularly blessed in the catering department. We picked up new volunteers as the season progressed and were blessed insofar these proved to be excellent replacements showing enthusiasm, team spiritedness, commitment and a can do attitude. It should be noted that two of our volunteers, Julian Ware Lane and Ron Scott, died during the course of the season. We also began with no money and were thankful to members of Providence Baptist Church, Southend Hospital – Heart and Chest department and individual benefactors for donations to cover the first part of the season. Later money was to come in from the Council and Love Southend that ought to cover the costs for the rest of the season. We appreciated the Council paying for twenty sleeping bags and a gift from Off the Streets of air mattresses.
When it comes to where Ferndale lies in the Rolls Royce, old banger continuum, in terms of our building, it is likely to the latter end compared with other shelters. The challenge has always been how best to use the limited space available, but we have been told we do the best food. Perhaps the biggest challenge of any evening was to convert the one Hall we use from being a restaurant to becoming a dormitory and the thought of doing the reverse operation next morning was one factor in our deciding not to offer our full English breakfast; the other was limited resources and a pre-season declaration by HARP they will do breakfast. But our guests were well fed in the morning: a mixture of what was left over from the night before, a Greggs “cakes, rolls and pastry” delivery, toast to order and every other week one volunteer brought in bacon sandwiches. It worked of a manner and guests were usually out not long after 7.30 for us to do the clear up operation. One of the downsides is that for the next 11 hours they were left with little to do until the next shelter. This is something that exercised us; we would hope the wider “we” can find a solution before next season.
As far as the season went, it was remarkably smooth. Even though we were busier than in previous seasons, and were often at full capacity, this despite being told because of there being extra emergency accommodation and homeless resources compared with last season we would be less busy, notably there was a lot less drama. We did see signs of positive progression with a number of guests and many thanked us for what we did. We were conscious of many needs among the guests and the cloud of substance misuse, which we dealt with as best we could. We had some incidents, however, including an attempted suicide (which when we last saw him he was doing well). We had to call the police twice, on the first and last nights of the season, both times because guests repeatedly violated the rules and refused to leave. The police came the first time but not the last. This does raise a concern in that both guests were allowed into other shelters subsequently. It appears that meaningful attempts at solidarity, as in previous seasons, no longer applied. This was particularly noticeable when the rule that guests need to be referred by HARP and turn up by 8pm, and obey the rules they signed up to in the guest registration process was consistently ignored by probably every shelter. While we recognize every shelter is free to admit who they wish, this inconsistency adds to risk, arising from entitled guests demanding admission, threatens other guests and volunteers health and safety, and risks losing volunteers (we did lose one over one of the incidents and I was later verbally attacked by more than once by guests who were excluded). Having said that, and speaking personally, I recognize achieving the balance between extending Benedictine hospitality and reading and enforcing the riot act remains work in progress, especially with guests with chaotic life styles and low self esteem. But overall a good season! While we can’t yet commit to next season, many of our volunteers remain keen.