MORE than 500 churches, church halls, mosques, and synagogues opened their doors to offer shelter for the night for homeless people last winter, welcoming in more than 2000, and a similar number or more are already opening their doors this winter, a new report says.
The Church and Community Night Shelter Network Impact Report, published annually by the charity Housing Justice, says that most of the night shelters open over the winter months, from November to March, and many of them are clustered in and around London. Each shelter is open at least one night a week, in co-ordination with others near by, and provides an evening meal and a bed for the night.
The Government said on Tuesday that it has spent more than £1 billion on homelessness since 2010. Shelter said that the data is "truly devastating" as figures indicate that more people are "teetering on the brink" of homelessness. In the year to March councils in the UK helped 205,100 households facing homelessness — up from 140,900 in 2009 — indicating a rise of almost 46 per cent. The charity also said that 100,000 children will be without a home in temporary accomodation this Christmas.
The latest report from Housing Justice found that, in 2014-2015, volunteers gave up an estimated 231,000 hours to run the shelters — which, in monetary terms, would be worth more than £3 million.
The report says that the number of non-UK nationals sleeping out on the streets has risen slightly during the past year, and the biggest proportions of rough sleepers from outside the UK came from Poland and Romania. The majority are men aged between 26 and 50, and the number of people who have to stay longer in shelters has also increased, reflecting the price rises in the private rented sector, which make it hard for many to move into independent accommodation.
When asked where they came from, 21 per cent of respondents said that they were on the street long-term. Of those who responded, 86 per cent said that they would have been on the street that night if it had not been for the shelter. And 92 per cent of them were found to have a health or mental-health issue, or a drug or alcohol problem.
The research is based on data collected from 34 night shelters across the UK, including those from 23 London boroughs. From the data, about 500 churches and church halls, as well as some mosques and synagogues, opened their premises for use as night shelters between October 2014 and May 2015.
The chief executive of Housing Justice, Alison Gelder, said: “As we approach Christmas, as a Christian charity, we believe shelter users are all marked with the imprint of God. So, in around 500 churches over the next couple of weeks, homeless people will be welcomed in alongside the carols and mince pies, and arguably representing something much closer to the original nativity than plaster statues of shepherds and kings.”
The director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance, Dr Dave Landrum, said: “While the report is heart-rending in terms of the scale of the issue of homelessness in the UK, it is also heartwarming to see the scale of the response of the Church, with nearly a quarter of a million hours volunteered in shelters.
“I hope this report helps to dispel the perceptions of homeless people, and also encourages more practical support for the vital work of night shelters.”
A survey of 1000 people in hostels for the homeless and day centres across the UK, published last week by the charity Crisis, reported that many were being forced into homelessness, hunger, and destitution by the Government’s benefit sanctions.
The survey, conducted for Crisis by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research, at Sheffield Hallam University, found that where people had been sanctioned in the past year, 21 per cent of those questioned had become homeless, 16 per cent had slept rough, and 77 per cent had gone hungry as a result.
The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, has called for homeless shelters to be protected from funding cuts. He visited the Salvation Army’s drop-in centre in central London last week to discuss concerns with volunteers and staff.
The planned cuts could hit a range of supported accommodation, including projects for homeless people and victims of domestic violence. The Salvation Army could lose £1.5 million over the next four years, the Liberal Democrat party has calculated.
Mr Farron said: “It is ludicrous for homeless shelters like theirs to be caught up in the net of welfare cuts when they meet the needs of some of the most vulnerable people in the UK. With rising rents and a huge shortage of affordable homes, residential homeless shelters are needed now more than ever.”
The party will vote in the House of Lords for an exemption for homeless shelters from social-rent cuts in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.