By: Jo Siedlecka
Sleeping rough is always very difficult. In the wintertime it can be lethal. Since this current cold snap began, 27 people in the UK are reported to have died from the cold. For the second year running, a group of churches in north London have opened night shelters on their premises, offering overnight accommodation, meals, showers, support and friendship to homeless people.
Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, and United Reformed churches in the borough of Camden are taking part in the project, which runs to the end of March. Churches take guests on the same day each week.
At Our Lady Help of Christians in Kentish Town this evening, volunteers were preparing a meal in the kitchen - home-made pizzas - while others were sorting out bedding, clothes and toiletries before the guests arrived. A room which is used as a nursery during the day was being turned into a women’s dormitory.
As soon a ballet lesson finished in the main hall, tables, chairs and a TV were moved in and volunteers began setting the tables for dinner.
“We’re expecting 12 men and three women” co-ordinator James Green said. He explained that besides serving the evening meal, they would be laying on entertainment – electronic bingo (“its helpful for some people learning English” he said) with a selection of chocolates, woolly hats, gloves and socks as prizes, and television.
Some students from a local convent school were coming to chat with the guests, and a group of young lawyers were visiting to offer legal and housing advice. Welfare worker Amanda Malek was also on hand to talk with the guests. “Last year 92% of those who we were able to engage with, did go on to find accommodation” she said.
Altogether around 20 volunteers work at the shelter in three shifts – preparing and serving the evening meal; overseeing the sleepover; and serving breakfast and clearing away bedding after the guests have left. Most are parishioners from Our Lady's athough sometimes volunteers come from other churches.
A trustee of the Upper Room homeless charity at St Saviour’s in Hammersmith commented: ‘this is a marvellous example of a community working together. If more churches set up projects like this in future, we could probably get most homeless people off the streets and start helping them to rebuild their lives.”
If you would like to make a donation to Our Lady Help of Christians Cold Weather Shelter, or for more information: tel: 07968 475654