Volunteers invest 231,000 hours into Night SheltersHJ LOGO

Volunteers invested 231,000 hours valued at a quarter of a million pounds into Christian and Community led Night Shelters in the past year.

As Night Shelters begin to open in earnest this month, a new report will be launched by Housing Justice, the national Christian voice of housing and homelessness this morning. (Thursday 10th December)

The Church and Community Night Shelters report was launched at the Shelter Forum in London on Thursday, which brings together Shelter coordinators from across the UK to share best practice and encouragement across a growing network.

The aim of the yearly Church and Community Night Shelter report is to capture some of the significant impacts and contributions made by Christians working in the homelessness sector in England Wales, either as paid or volunteers.

In preparation for the 2016 Mayoral Elections in London, Housing Justice will be sending a copy of this Shelter Impact report, along with a covering letter to those standing for the role next May to share the work being done by the church to support those who are homeless and encourage them to make it a promise to see homelessness decreased within the capital.

Within the past year, an estimated 231,000 volunteer hours has been invested into Night Shelters including within that a separate 70,000 volunteering attendances.

This reports saw Housing Justice collect data from 34 Night Shelters across the UK, including those from 23 London Boroughs as well as from across the UK. From the data collected, it shows that around 500 churches and Church Halls opened their premises for use as Night Shelters between October 2014 - May 2015.

2,171 guests were accommodated through these 500 venues. Asking where guests came from, 21% of respondents said they were on the street long term. Of this, 86% of shelter guest said they were long term street homeless with 14% of those expressing a disability.

Of the guests, 43% were UK in nationality, with 49% being non EU. This compares to 51%and 47% respectively from last year.

Only 14% of those using Shelters were female, which was broadly the same as last year.

In terms of how long Shelters were open, Together in Barnet were the first shelter to open it’s doors last winter on October 20th and the GrowTH project in Tower Hamlets and the Westminster project both ran through as late as the end of May 2015. The majority of shelter projects closed their doors at the end of March.

Sharing their motive for serving in a Night Shelter, one volunteer said:

“Almost everybody that I have come into contact with doing this work have had their attitudes to the homeless seriously changed. One of the problems that you come across time and time again with this sort of thing from the outside community, from the neighbours, is that they have real, real fears about the homeless – almost Conrad-ian part of darkness”

Speaking at the launch of the Shelter Impact Report, Alison Gelder, Housing Justice Chief Executive said:

"I think it is vital that churches stand in the gaps left by statutory services as well as arguing and campaigning for those services to be improved (or even for funding to be restored).

The homeless guests in our report are mainly (86%) single men over the age of 17 but under 60. This is in large part because there is no duty on Local Authorities to provide accommodation for people who are not in priority need. It is even worse for folk who are migrants (from whatever country) or British citizens who have returned home after a period living abroad.

Almost one in five guests (18%) in the report are people from outside the UK with no recourse to public funds (NRPF). They are not eligible for benefits and struggle to find any official help. Some of them are at work, saving for a deposit to be able to rent somewhere, some are struggling with mental ill health and addictions, some are taciturn, some are chatty – but they all have dignity!

As we approach Christmas, as a Christian charity, we believe shelter users are all marked with the imprint of God. So in around 500 churches over the next couple of weeks, homeless people will be welcomed in alongside the carols and mince pies and arguably representing something much closer to the original nativity than plaster statues of shepherds and kings."

Welcoming the report this morning, Dr Dave Landrum, Director of Advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance said:

“The Evangelical Alliance welcomes the Housing Justice report on volunteering for night shelters. While the report is heart-rending in terms of the scale of the issue of homelessness in the UK, it is also heart-warming to see the scale of the response of the church with nearly a quarter of a million hours volunteered in shelters. I hope this report helps to dispel the perceptions of homeless people, and also encourages more practical support for the vital work of night shelters.”

Housing Justice is a BIA of Churches Together in England
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