Impact of night shelters
Volunteers invested 231,000 hours into church and community-led night shelters in the past year, a report finds
The report from Housing Justice collected data from 34 night shelters across the UK, including 23 London Boroughs. It found that around 500 churches, church halls, synagogues and mosques opened their premises for use as Night Shelters between October 2014 - May 2015, with 70,000 separate volunteering shifts equating to 231,000 hours. It placed the economic value on this volunteering at more than £3m.
More than 2,000 guests were accommodated through these 500 venues. Asking where guests came from, 21 per cent of respondents said they were on the street long term, while 20 per cent were new to the street.
Forty-three per cent were UK in nationality, with 49 per cent being non UK, compared to 51 per cent and 47 per cent respectively from last year. Only 14 per cent of those using shelters were female, broadly the same as last year. A further 14 per cent had a disability.
Alison Gelder, Housing Justice Chief Executive, the the typical guest was a single man between 17 and 60.
'This is in large part because there is no duty on Local Authorities to provide accommodation for people who are not in priority need,' she continued. 'It is even worse for folk who are migrants (from whatever country) or British citizens who have returned home after a period living abroad.
'Almost one in five guests (18 per cent) in the report are people from outside the UK with no recourse to public funds. They are not eligible for benefits and struggle to find any official help. Some of them are at work, saving for a deposit to be able to rent somewhere, some are struggling with mental ill health and addictions, some are taciturn, some are chatty – but they all have dignity.
'I think it is vital that churches stand in the gaps left by statutory services as well as arguing and campaigning for those services to be improved - or even for funding to be restored.'
Sharing their motive for serving in a night shelter, one volunteer said: 'Almost everybody that I have come into contact with doing this work have had their attitudes to the homeless seriously changed. One of the problems that you come across time and time again with this sort of thing from the outside community, from the neighbours, is that they have real, real fears about the homeless – almost Conrad-ian part of darkness.'
Welcoming the report, which was launched last month, Dr Dave Landrum, Director of Advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance said, 'While the report is heart-rending in terms of the scale of the issue of homelessness in the UK, it is also heart-warming 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.'
The aim of the annual Church and Community Night Shelter report is to capture some of the significant impacts and contributions made by Christians working in the homelessness sector in England Wales, either as paid or volunteers .
In preparation for the 2016 Mayoral Elections in London, Housing Justice will be sending a copy of this Shelter Impact report, along with a covering letter to those standing for the role next May, to share the work being done by the church to support those who are homeless and encourage them to make it a promise to see homelessness decreased within the capital.