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07 January 2014

Churches join together to shelter homeless from the cold

Churches join together to shelter homeless from the cold

By Jacqueline Laing

With homelessness on the rise, churches across the country are working together to provide shelter from the cold.

Churches are opening their doors to those without a home, a growing sector, during the festive season and the winter months of 2014.

The church night shelter model is one that has been growing and expanding over the past few years and one which has seen the Church in the news for the right reasons. Churches are working together in unity, some for the first time.

Many shelters have started in collaboration with the Christian organisation Housing Justice. Housing Justice works to support church-based housing and homelessness projects across England and Wales. Under their banner, London alone has twenty five shelters which work alongside those set up by coalitions of churches, the Quakers, independent organisations, Crisis and Shelter.

One of the busiest winter shelters operates within the London borough of Westminster where the highest incidence of rough sleeping occurs.During 2012-2013 alone, 2,440 people were recorded as 'bedding down'- up 40 per cent on 2009-2010.

Tackling the issue at the grass roots is the Westminster churches winter night shelter, run by six churches between 1 December and 31 March. The shelter,manned by volunteers, operates on a rolling rota between the six churches, offering 15 rough sleepers a three course dinner and bed and breakfast each night of the week.

This is just one of hundreds of UK church winter shelter projects in areas including Liverpool, Kingston, Ipswich, Folkestone, Swindon, Winchester and Brighton. Many are expanding year on year .

Others include Swansea Hope, where coordinator Mandy Harvey says the shelter will provide short term security,and Birmingham Christian Homeless Forum who run a project, co-ordinated by Emma Neil who said: "it's wonderful to see the churches rolling up their sleeves and responding to the needs of those who are in need of help in the city".

A recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Crisis,The Homelessness Monitor 2013 explains that those most susceptible to homelessness are young adults and those from deprived areas. Others include those with addictions, mental health issues, troubled backgrounds and chaotic lifestyles.

The report also indicates that around 185,000 UK adults experience homelessness each year with eight per cent stating this as their reality within the last five years. They also predict nine per cent of adults will experience homelessness at some point in their life.

According to Crisis, 113,260 people approached their local council as homeless; an 11 per cent increase over two years. Of that, the government only recognised 13,330 people as officially homeless, citing a 4 per cent decrease on the same quarter in 2012. The result is a growing sub-sector known as the hidden homeless: people who do not qualify for local authority housing, live in hostels, staying with family or friends, squat or are in some other form of insecure accommodation.

The Church is responding to this need by working together and demonstrating their care and love in a very practical way.

Housing Justice believes that campaigning on behalf of the homeless and for better, more affordable, housing is important. They are inspired by Isaiah 58:6-7 and Matthew 25:37-40. They work to unite Christians and churches of all denominations across the country to work for change and embrace partnerships with people of all faiths (and none) who share their values of social justice and compassion.

Find out about shelters in your area. Visit the Housing Justice website or your local churches together group.