'A growing need for Night Shelters'
Nearly 2,000 people were welcomed into church and community based Winter Night Shelters across England and Wales in 2015, according to a new report by the National Christian homeless charity Housing Justice - and that number is expected to rise
In its fourth year of reporting activity, the Housing Justice Night Shelter Impact Report demonstrates the contribution made by churches and faith communities when it comes to Night Shelters and the guests they serve.
The shelters typically run between November and March and involve a circuit of churches, community groups and places of worship of different faiths and denominations, each taking a designated night of the week to provide shelter on their premises to between 12 and 35 guests. Each shelter provides an evening meal and a bed for the night, and breakfast in the morning.
The latest report shows homeless guests were accommodated in more than 500 venues last winter, with more expected in this current season.
A total of 1,920 guests visited the night shelters during the 2015 season, a slight reduction in the number of the previous year of 2,171, with anecdotal evidence that this is partially because some guests are staying for longer.
The report shows volunteers gave 490,063 hours to church and community night shelters; an average of 14,850 hours per shelter. This is an increase of more than 112 per cent on the previous year.
The estimated value of the time according is £6,174,805, based on average earning figures from the Office of National Statistics.
The night shelters do more than just provide a welcome and basic accommodation. More than 500 (506) of the guests moved on from the night shelter into their own home and 137 of them found formal employment.
While regretful of the need for Night Shelters, Housing Justice is seeking to give thanks for the work of thousands of volunteers across the country.
The Rt Revd James Langstaff, Bishop of Rochester and Chair of Housing Justice Trustees, said:
'This report highlights the continuing and growing need for Night Shelters. While this fact is no cause for celebration – rather the opposite – it is very good that an increasing number of Shelters have sought the Housing Justice Quality Mark over the last 12 months. The Night Shelters team at Housing Justice supports and equips local faith communities across England and Wales to offer the highest possible quality of provision. The team looks forward to awarding the Quality Mark to more projects in the coming months.
'Each Night Shelter is an expression of God's love in action, providing dignity for the most vulnerable in our communities. I am deeply grateful to all those volunteers who give of themselves so willingly through the work of the Shelters. They work unsociable hours, offering food, shelter and other practical care; they embody love for neighbour and generosity of heart.
'Whatever the politics around homelessness, the church’s calling puts Christians at the centre of this loving service.'
Encouraging churches to set up more Winter Night Shelters in their own area, the Bishop of Edmonton, the Rt Revd Rob Wickham has been invited to become the first Housing Justice Night Shelter Ambassador.
As part of his new role, he joined local volunteers at the Night Shelter based at St Dionis Church in Parson’s Green in the Diocese of London on 20 December.
During the visit, Bishop Rob met with trustees and staff from Glassdoor, London’s largest emergency winter night shelter, which partners with St Dionis to run its Night Shelter. The St Dionis shelter provides life-sustaining food and shelter between November and March each year. Volunteers and partners work closely to provide dignity-restoring support to help men and women find solutions to their homelessness.
Author of this year's Impact report, Jacob Quagliozzi, Deputy Director of Housing Justice, said:
'This year Housing Justice Night Shelter Impact Report shows the excellent work that Christians across the whole of England and Wales are doing to support those who are in great need this Christmas from homeless.
'This new report shows that, whilst there has been a drop in the number of guests being hosted by churches in this last shelter season, there will certainly be a significant increase in this current season.
'Appointing Bishop Rob as the first Housing Justice Night Shelter Ambassador is a demonstration from Housing Justice that we are keen to celebrate what Christians are already doing, but look at where the gaps are for us to see more Night Shelters beginning to emerge. Bishop Rob is an excellent example of someone who believes passionately in seeing Church and Community Based Night Shelters in localities and we hope his appointment will encourage people to nag their own Bishop to lead from the front as the church keeps homeless as a priority, in both word and deed!'