Just last week the Christian charity, Housing Justice, described as ‘appalling’, new figures showing that the number of people having to use church and community night shelters had doubled in the past four years
As the Development Worker for Together Canterbury, Keith Berry is the key liaison between the Diocese and the church winter shelters in Kent. In this week’s Advent Justice Appeal blog, he writes about the lives changed by these shelters, and how donations from last year’s campaign have been used.
I spend a lot of my time out and about around the Diocese. It can be hectic, but it also means I have the privilege of meeting face-to-face the many church-run or supported groups, that make a difference in our communities.
Throughout the December to March period, when the cold and freezing weather makes life on the streets an even more hostile environment in which to survive, it is the many church organised Winter Night Shelters that really come into their own.
Throughout our Diocese there are six Winter Night Shelter projects.
In 2016/17 these shelters accommodated 257 individuals, 20% of whom were women and 10% of whom were in work. Over the 90 nights 7,800 bedspaces were provided across 44 venues, supported by 18 paid staff and 1,250 volunteers. The bed occupancy during the period was 72%, 5,600 bedspaces used.
Those are the statistics but what of the individuals? During a visit to the organisers of the Folkestone Shelter they shared with me the story of one man who had visited. He came to the shelter after having been released from prison last December, and for one reason or another, the authorities were unable to arrange any accommodation. He was, in his own words, ‘cast onto the streets to make my own arrangements.’
It’s unfortunately an all too common story for former prisoners.
The Folkestone Shelter was for this man ‘the first place that I could find that gave me any positive encouragement.’ After six weeks of using the Shelter, and through the determination of the volunteers there, he was accepted into a supported housing project in Dover
Another shelter user told staff that they have given him a second chance and that, ‘The Winter Shelter has saved my life. Without it, I really do think that I would be dead now.’
It is not just the users of the Shelters who find their lives changed. Many of the volunteers find that their view of the homeless changes dramatically once they draw near into a shared relationship with those in need. It is not uncommon to find volunteers saying that they found God in a homeless person!
All of Kent’s Winter Shelters belong to a Forum where experiences can be shared and statistics collated in order to provide a reliable source of information on the homeless numbers in the County. The Forum, with the assistance of Housing Justice, supports groups wishing to start new winter shelter projects.
Despite the endless good these shelters do, they receive no public funding . It’s why they were particularly delighted to receive grants last year from the Bishop’s Advent Justice Appeal which saw £8,700 shared among all the Kent projects
This money has been used to help restock the equipment necessary to operate the Shelters including beds, food and other vital equipment.
The numbers of homeless across the county has increased during the year, with relationship breakdown and the ending of Assured Shorthold Tenancies some of the main reasons that people find themselves homeless.
The continuing support of churches and their volunteers is therefore more vital than ever to ensure that both physical and emotional support is provided to individuals at a difficult time of the year. Your donations really make a difference and so on behalf of the shelters I would like to thank you for your generosity, prayers and concern for this important area of Christian witness.
Click here to donate online to the 2017 Advent Justice Appeal.