Night Shelters conference
Housing Justice, the national Christian housing and homelessness campaigning charity, has held its first ever National Night Shelters Conference. More than 100 people attended “Night Shelters: Now is the Time” last week, from churches and community groups, local authorities, insurers, funders, and housing and homelessness organisations.
The charity launched the forum for church and community winter shelters in 2003 and has been involved in supporting the development of more than 40 new shelter schemes in London and nationally since then.
Housing Justice supports this growing network of shelters with advice, consultancy and training and is now working towards launching a new Night Shelter Quality Mark, previewed at the conference by Director of Projects, Alastair Murray.
Several night shelters expressed interest in piloting the new Quality Mark, which will set an achievable benchmark of best practice for churches and community groups to follow.
Mr Murray spoke of Housing Justice’s vision that “everyone should have a home suitable to their needs”. He said, 'No one pretends that a bed on a church floor is an answer to everyone’s housing need, but it’s a good starting point. Certainly better than sleeping on a park bench or in a shop doorway.'
As churches and others respond to growing homelessness in their communities it is vital that this work is done to a good standard, he continued. Funders, insurers and local authorities need to know that shelters are operating safely and effectively for their guests, staff and volunteers and the local community.
Other speakers included Maggie Williams of the East London Housing Partnership, who spoke of “growing needs and shrinking budgets” in her keynote presentation. She said, 'During the severe weather provision, community and faith groups provided 57 per cent of total individual bed nights, some working in partnership with statuary and third sector organisations.'
Rick Henderson, CEO of Homeless Link opened his talk with the challenging question: “What failures in our system mean that homeless men and women need to plan their lives night be night?” He went on to say that Homeless Link still “continues to defend services for homeless people while working to end homelessness”
Matt Bird of the Cinnamon Network spoke about how they are trying to make it as easy as possible for the average local church to help those people most at need in the community. There are now over 3,235 local churches leading a Cinnamon Network recognised project, mobilising over 50,000 volunteers, helping 722,000 beneficiaries every year. Night Shelter is one such project.
Paul Reily, Housing Justice Shelter Liaison, drew attention to the work of the London shelters, presented in the Housing Justice Community Night Shelter Report from September 2013. He said, 'This report celebrates the life changing work of the Community Night Shelter Movement in London; without it 1400 people’s lives would have been more miserable last winter, and some of them may not have survived to see the spring.'