AT LEAST 500 churches, synagogues, and mosques across the UK have opened their doors to more than 1900 homeless people in the past year, the latest Church and Community Night Shelter Network Impact Report says. It is published by the charity Housing Justice.
Volunteers donated more than 490,000 hours to the 34 church and community night-shelter projects that contributed data to the report — an average of 14,850 hours per shelter. This amounted to about £6.2 million in wages, based on average earnings, the report says.
The report, released before Christmas, was produced to draw attention to the plight of homeless people in the UK, and the work of night shelters. It says that these shelters stayed open for an average of 114 days during the year. Of the 1920 guests, 84 per cent were male.
The findings were published as the Prime Minister announced that £50 million of government funding (set aside earlier to tackle homelessness) is to support homelessness-prevention schemes in the UK (£20 million), better support networks for rough sleepers (£20 million), and to provide emergency accommodation (£10 million).
Speaking on a visit to Thames Reach Employment Academy in London, with the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, last month, Mrs May said: “In the run-up to Christmas, images of soup kitchens and hostels remind us of the vital lifeline provided by charities and local services to those facing a night on the streets.
”But today I have witnessed a different kind of support, one which seeks to stop people ending up on the street altogether by providing assistance to address their most immediate needs, and, crucially, giving them the skills and opportunities to help them build a more secure future for themselves.”
About two-thirds of the shelters surveyed in the Housing Justice report were in London (22); four were from elsewhere in the south-east; three from Wales; three from the north of England; one from the east; and one from the East Midlands.
To coincide with its release, Housing Justice announced that the Bishop of Edmonton, in London diocese, the Rt Revd Robert Wickham, was to become its “Winter Night Shelter Ambassador” (News, 16 December). Bishop Wickham served a curacy at St Mary’s, Willesden, where he volunteered at the night shelter.
”Shelter and food are basic human needs, but so are dignity and love. It was the homeless in Willesden who taught me this,” he said. “It was there that I discovered that ministry was very much hands-on, active, and sacrificial.”
The report says that volunteers in London committed 331,071 hours to supporting 1290 homeless people. “These figures are impressive and powerful,” Bishop Wickham said. “But much more powerful are the stories of the encounters, the lives that have been changed, because of acts of generosity, love, and dignity.”
The report’s author, Jacob Quagliozzi, who is deputy director of Housing Justice, said: “We hope [Bishop Wickham’s] appointment will encourage people to nag their own bishop to lead from the front as the Church keeps homeless [people] as a priority, in both word and deed.”
The report was welcomed by the chairman of Housing Justice, the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff. “I am deeply grateful to all those volunteers who give of themselves so willingly through the work of the shelters. They work unsocial 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.”
London Muslims donate to the homeless. The relief agency Muslim Aid has donated ten tonnes of food to homeless people in the UK in the Big Food Drive, after collecting donations outside the East London Mosque before Christmas. The goods were given to the charity for the homeless, Crisis.
The chief executive of Muslim Aid, Jehangir Malik, said: “We are overwhelmed by people’s generosity today, and very pleased that this will mean thousands of homeless people in London will be well fed over Christmas and the winter period.”
The Vicar of St Paul’s, Bow Common, the Revd Bernadette Hegarty, attended the Big Food Drive. She said: “Giving is an important part of both the Christian and Islamic faith, and it is important for us to be working together to do what we can to support our brothers and sisters.”