DOZENS of new sleeping bags are being handed out nightly to
people who find themselves homeless on the streets of London,
thanks to a church-based charity.
The drop in temperatures over the past week has seen a rise in
demand for thermal sleeping bags.
The charity Above Us Only Sky was started by St Luke's, Cranham
Park, in Upminster.
The Vicar of Cranham Park, the Revd Michael Vickers, said that
the central aim of the charity was "to save lives on the
"We find anyone new on the street - many of whom have arrived
without any proper gear - and give them sleeping bags which protect
down to severe Arctic gale temperatures. This keeps people alive
until they can get off the street and into employment."
The dip in temperatures last weekend saw the number of sleeping
bags handed out rise from about ten a night to 30 a night.
Mr Vickers said that the team of volunteers were seeing an
influx of new people on the streets from Romania, who are arriving
early in anticipation of finding work in the UK from January, when
labour-market restrictions are lifted.
A new report, Maxed Out, published last week by the
think tank Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), says that thousands of
people are being made homeless because of crushing levels of
personal debt. An increasing number of people are turning to
high-cost lenders to pay for essentials, trapping them in a cycle
of debt. The report says that debt payments for some households
amounted to half their gross monthly income.
The director of the CSJ, Christian Guy, said: "Years of
increased borrowing . . . has forced many families into a debt trap
that is proving very difficult to escape... Our report shows how it
can wreak havoc on mental health, relationships and
by a staff reporter
AS WINTER approaches, churches are being urged to consider
opening their doors to offer floor-space for homeless
The Christian homelessness charity Housing Justice has held its
first Nightshelter conference for churches running shelters. A
"quality mark" is being introduced to set a benchmark of good
practice for churches and other community groups running
The director of projects for Housing Justice, Alastair Murray,
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."
Churches are encouraged to get involved, and can obtain
financial and other support to set up a shelter through the
faith-based Cinnamon Network.
The "Robes" project in the diocese of Southwark uses 23
different church venues to offer a temporary nightshelter from
November to March, seven nights a week. Homeless people are given a
hot meal, a bed for the night, and a cooked breakfast. The project
costs about £80,000 a year to run, but most of the funds are raised
through a sponsored sleep-out at Southwark Cathedral. This year's
sleep-out, on 29 November, will be enlivened by a performance by
the "choir with no name", made up of homeless people. The Dean, the
Very Revd Andrew Nunn, said: "This is a highlight of the
cathedral's year, and a great way to raise essential funds for
Other church-based initiatives being rolled out this winter
include the "Build a Backpack" scheme to donate essentials to
homeless people over Christmas. The scheme was started by the
"Stable" project three years ago, founded by Lucy and Mark Hesford
(News, 15 February).