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27 January 2011

A Bed for the Night?

Even though the worst of the snow appears to be over, at least in England, spare a thought for those without a permanent roof over their head. We may question why people end up sleeping on the streets but the need on our doorsteps is very real and churches can be uniquely placed to provide shelter for those who've nowhere else to go. Our buildings could be put to good use as night shelters, especially in the winter months, and the warmth of human contact we can bring make a real difference. And of course there are a number of solid Biblical reasons for our doing something practical in response to people's plight…

It sounds fine in theory but where on earth do we start?

  • Start by establishing whether there's actually a need for a shelter
  • Sort out where you're going to find volunteers, the time they can realistically give, and what relevant experience they've had
  • Plan how you're going to build 'ownership' of the initiative across the church with those not directly involved
  • Check your building's suitability - easily accessible; use of toilets, washing & kitchen facilities; plus storage space
  • Start small in terms of numbers offered a bed for the night
  • Be realistic about the number of nights per week and over what period you can offer people a bed
  • Consider other church partnerships so you can offer a fuller service and spread the load
  • Set up a steering group to oversee the project
  • Identify the key local agencies with whom you'll need contact (e.g. homeless persons unit, doctor)
  • Develop relevant policies and procedures (e.g. alcohol & drugs policy, confidentiality policy, referral procedures, and 'house rules')
  • Check your public liability insurance policy provides sufficient cover
  • Set a realistic budget and plan your fundraising

How can we best manage any risks of a project? And what will help us succeed?

  • Make sure your volunteers are well trained & supported (have a Volunteer policy)
  • Have a Health & Safety policy with everyone knowing the content
  • Always have someone on duty trained in First Aid and ensure the First Aid Kit is stocked
  • Be clear about boundaries of involvement with individuals including volunteers not being left on their own
  • Apply your admissions policy consistently, don't develop a culture of bending the rules
  • Be clear about how the project will be distinctively Christian

What about the legal stuff?

  • Planning permission: a temporary shelter may involve a change of use. It will depend on the amount of time used as a shelter and rules vary between different planning authorities
  • Charitable status: usually it's enough to be a project of an established charity (e.g. church) providing your activities fit within their charitable objects
  • Criminal Records Bureau checks: currently there is no legal requirement for CRB checks on staff & volunteers in shelters to be carried out. It's good practice to do so anyway, and if you're providing other individual support then checks are required (CRB requirements are being reviewed later in 2011)
  • Health & Safety legislation: applies to volunteers & paid staff, and regular risk assessments should be carried out
  • Food hygiene: if providing food the regulations apply so check whether your church is already registered and your volunteers correctly trained

Lastly, remember that when you least expect it you may find yourself entertaining an angel or two…

For more detailed information download Housing Justice's free resource "Shelter in a Pack" with thanks to them for some of the suggestions in this article www.housingjustice.org.uk

Fran Beckett OBE
Consultant - Anthony Collins Solicitors