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High take-up for sleeping bags

06 December 2013

by a staff reporter


Bagged: Steve Fletcher of Above Us Only Sky distributes sleeping bags

Bagged: Steve Fletcher of Above Us Only Sky distributes sleeping bags

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 street".

"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 well-being."

by a staff reporter

AS WINTER approaches, churches are being urged to consider opening their doors to offer floor-space for homeless people.

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 shelters.

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 Robes."

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).



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