From CofE Manchester
As winter draws near, many churches will be participating in running night shelters for those on the streets.
Greater Manchester Winter Night Shelter, which ran as a pilot in early 2016, will nearly double the length of time it operates to six months when it opens to homeless guests at the end of October 2016 with support from six Church of England host churches.
The aim of the night shelter is to provide guests with temporary accommodation alongside the support from the staff and services at the Booth Centre, a local homeless charity, with the aim of helping them towards creating a home.
The project has at its core an ethos of hospitality and mutuality, and aims to create a welcoming, homely atmosphere. Guests and volunteers sit down to eat together and join in conversation and activities. There is a selection of materials available to pass the time such as television, reading material and games, and tea, coffee and/or cold water is available for guests’ use throughout their stay.
A network of six churches based within a 2 mile radius of Manchester City Centre provide beds on one night each week for men who would otherwise have been sleeping rough.
All guests are referred by the Booth Centre, after being assessed by their staff in accordance with church criteria, and after agreeing that they would return to the Booth Centre on the following morning. The Booth Centre provides them with services during the day, including hot breakfasts and lunches, showers, and help with finding accommodation and employment.
This process allows the Booth Centre to ensure that each guest is supported in creating and enacting a move on/support plan to help move them towards a more permanent housing solution.
The night shelter is fully supported by Housing Justice, who have experience of coordinating similar programmes in churches across England. They currently have approximately 90 rolling shelter programmes, with this being their first in Greater Manchester. The shelter is based on Housing Justice’s Churches’ Rolling Night Shelter model.
Rev Ellie Trimble, priest-in-charge of the Church of the Apostles Manchester talks about her churches’ involvement in the shelter:
"We were invited as churches that were not too far away from the Booth Centre to a meeting to begin the conversation to explore what we could do as churches to address the crisis that our city is facing, in terms of providing homes for those who have no home. We all just started talking about what we could do. How we could work together, to address this massive problem, that we're all responsible for actually. We've all got a responsibility to look after those people in our community, who are on the fringes, and vulnerable.
"I just knew that I wanted to do something. I knew that my church had resources to help, welcome our homeless people in to our churches. I knew we could do that. The work with the Winter Night Shelter was so in line with God's will. As a Christian, we're called to look after those who are vulnerable aren't we, or in our society we are. We're called to seek them out and serve them, as Jesus did.
"I made a journey just two days ago up to Deansgate, and came across so many people still fast asleep in the street. Lots of tents all around, in the city center. It's complex, really complex situation. There's all sorts of things that have happened over the years, that have made it more difficult for people to remain housed if they're from the, obviously they've got eviction problems, there's just been so many changes, and so many changes with our benefits system. I don't really want to get into politics really but there's a really entrenched sort of community of homeless people that we can't reach. It's really difficult. We can go and feed them on the street, but it's really hard to get their own stability, to support them.
"The Booth Centre is doing great work. people have walked through the door into the Centre and once they are in engage with all the opportunities that they're given for support. It's getting them to make that journey.
"The pilot scheme was just amazing. I think we were all quite anxious, because whenever you want something for the first time you've got expectations and hopes, and you really want to be able to welcome your guests into a warm friendly environment. There's lots of skilled volunteers that had all these high hopes, but there was a scare factor there. It was almost like, what if what we're going to offer is not the best we can do."
Rev Miles Platting from St Cuthbert's, another church that is involved, comments about the experience:
"It was wonderful. I think that the surprising things with it, are the relationships that we built with our guests. I think we all came with the intention that we would be offering hospitality, and we'd be offering the love of Jesus, really, by flinging open our doors, and doing what he did, sharing a meal with people. That we'd be doing that, and somehow that would make a difference in people's lives, but until you do it you don't really know do you. You hope, and you trust, and you pray that that's going to make a difference to people, but actually it did. You could see men come through the doors, really quite broken, and scared, and vulnerable, and hungry, and cold. As the weeks went by, you would see them, having had a few nights sleep, you could see the change in them. You could see them raising their head a little higher, you could see the that the fact that people wanted to talk to them, and share a meal with them, and were just like them made a huge difference to them.
"I think that we got far more out of it than our guests did actually, which probably the wrong way around, but that's kind of how it felt really. Because every volunteer that I spoke to, got so much out of being with our guests, being alongside them and supporting them. You could see that our volunteers coming in after a full days work. They'd come through the door at half five, quite exhausted but after half an hour of setting up the beds, preparing, we'd start to welcome our guests. You could just see the life come back into their faces. Everybody benefited really. It was an amazing time, and hopefully this year having learned a few things, we'll be able to serve people even better."
Rev Ellie Trimble continues:
"We actually have two of our Winter Night Shelter guests volunteering with us now that are happily in homes and they're local enough that they can come and volunteer with a meal we serve homeless, vulnerable and elderly people on a Sunday. It's maintaining that relationship with them, supporting them. We're all mixing, we're all getting to know each other. We're all able to understand where each other is coming from, because I think there are lots of people who judge homeless people out there, and it's not fair, it really isn't. You need to get to know people and hear their stories so that you can see things from their side rather than judging people, so it's an absolute joy."
Watch a video about the Housing Justice Rolling Night Shelter model:
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