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Demand for Church Winter Shelters 

Demand for church winter shelt

'The Rugby Winter Shelter for me, is what the theologians of liberation call praxis,' said the Revd Dr Michael Bochenksi, 'Practical action rooted in the Bible's message prioritising the needs of God's poor in a given town or area

'This means a commitment to several social action projects such as Christians Against Poverty, the Hope Centre for homeless and badly housed people, the new Rugby Foodbank and the provision of Street Pastors.

'The Winter Shelter is the Body of Christ in action ecumenically here delivering a project that would be beyond the scope of any one of the participating churches individually. In Rugby in addition to Rugby Baptist Church, three Anglican churches, and local Catholic, Methodist, URC, Redeemed Church of God and Salvation Army, all participate to deliver a refuge from the streets every night for four months.

'More generally the Winter Shelter project has led to a greater sense of shared mission among Christians in the town and a growing realisation that many of us in Britain today are just one major crisis away from being homeless ourselves. There but for the grace of God!'Many church-operated winter night shelters have been seeing an increase in demand this winter.

A combination of bitterly cold weather in January, less work and the impact of changes in benefits has led to more rough sleepers requiring a bed for the night.

In addition the variety of people using the shelters and the number of night shelters operated by churches have both increased since last year.
Night shelters are operated by clusters of churches and generally provide a home-cooked dinner, hot drinks, breakfast and a safe place to sleep. Some are open every night of the winter; others are triggered by drops in temperatures.

The Baptist Times contacted a number of them. The Rugby Winter Shelter has seen an increase in demand compared with last year, according to the Revd Dr Michael Bochenski, minister of Rugby Baptist Church and chairman of Hope4 the charity co-ordinating the shelter. In December and January it had provided 400 bed nights for a total of 29 guests.

In Ipswich, where two Baptist churches are among the host churches, there has been an increase in enquiries compared with last year, with shelters 'pretty much full' in the cold weather in January, reported shelter chair the Revd Canon Paul Daltry.

Other notable features include the types of people requiring a shelter. Dr Bochenski, a former president of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, reported seeing more younger homeless people as new benefit policies begin to bite, as well as an increase Central European and African guests.

The Revd Simon Jones, ministry team leader at Bromley Baptist Church, part of a winter shelter in Bromley, said he had seen 'a lot more young people turn up as guests'.

Another regular comment was the excellent levels of participation, not just among churches but the wider community too.

Henry Fisher is the night shelter administrator in Wakefield, where the Wakefield District Council Night Shelter is run by Wakefield Baptist Church through the winter months and is now in its fifth year. The shelter had received an increase in volunteers, with many coming from the Council after it had been advertised on the intranet.

'There has been a really positive response from volunteers - they have enjoyed coming, they feel they have made a difference,' he said.
Mr Jones reported that Bromley was staffed entirely by volunteers 'a rich mixture of people mainly from the churches but also with some council people sleeping over, including the director of environmental services.' Dr Bochenski spoke of a 'remarkable degree of co-operation', with the local press and radio being very supportive too.

Nationally, more church-run shelters are in operation, said Alison Gelder, director of Housing Justice. 

She reported that there are shelters in 26 London boroughs, as opposed to 20 last year. Nationally Housing Justice was aware of at least five new shelters this year. With a number of factors contributing to an increase in homelessness - benefit changes, fewer jobs, the recession - Ms Gelder said they do a 'vital job'.

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